I propose to investigate the nanometer scale organization of delicate 2-dimensional molecular materials using nanoscale vibrational spectroscopy. 2D structures are of great scientific and technological importance, for example as novel materials (graphene, MoS2, WS2, etc.), and in the form of biological membranes and synthetic 2D-polymers. Powerful methods for their analysis and imaging with molecular selectivity and sufficient spatial resolution, however, are lacking. Tip-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (TERS) allows label-free spectroscopic identification of molecular species, with ≈10 nm spatial resolution, and with single molecule sensitivity for strong Raman scatterers. So far, however, TERS is not being carried out in liquids, which is the natural environment for membranes, and its application to poor Raman scatterers such as components of 2D polymers, lipids, or other membrane compounds (proteins, sugars) is difficult. TERS has the potential to overcome the restrictions of other optical/spectroscopic methods to study 2D materials, namely (i) insufficient spatial resolution of diffraction-limited optical methods; (ii) the need for labelling for all methods relying on fluorescence; and (iii) the inability of some methods to work in liquids. I propose to address a number of scientific questions associated with the spatial organization, and the occurrence of defects in sensitive 2D molecular materials. The success of these studies will also rely critically on technical innovations of TERS that notably address the problem of energy dissipation. This will for the first time allow its application to study of complex, delicate 2D molecular systems without photochemical damage.
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