Towards quantitative SERS detection of hydrogen cyanide at ppb level for human breath analysis

Rikke Kragh Lauridsen, Tomas Rindzevicius, Søren Molin, Helle Krogh Johansen, Rolf W. Berg, Tommy Sonne Alstrøm, Kristoffer Almdal, Flemming Larsen, Michael Stenbæk Schmidt, Anja Boisen

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Lung infections with Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA) is the most common cause of morbidity and mortality in cystic fibrosis (CF) patients. Due to its ready adaptation to the dehydrated mucosa of CF airways, PA infections tend to become chronic, eventually killing the patient. Hydrogen cyanide (HCN) at ppb level has been reported to be a PA biomarker. For early PA detection in CF children not yet chronically lung infected a non-invasive Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy (SERS)-based breath nanosensor is being developed. The triple bond between C and N in cyanide, with its characteristic band at ∼2133 cm-1, is an excellent case for the SERS-based detection due to the infrequent occurrence of triple bonds in nature. For demonstration of direct HCN detection in the gas phase, a gold-coated silicon nanopillar substrate was exposed to 5 ppm HCN in N2. Results showed that HCN adsorbed on the SERS substrate can be consistently detected under different experimental conditions and up to 9 days after exposure. For detection of lower cyanide concentrations serial dilution experiments using potassium cyanide (KCN) demonstrated cyanide quantification down to 1 μM in solution (corresponding to 18 ppb). Lower KCN concentrations of 10 and 100 nM (corresponding to 0.18 and 1.8 ppb) produced SERS intensities that were relatively similar to the reference signal. Since HCN concentration in the breath of PA colonized CF children is reported to be ∼13.5 ppb, the detection of cyanide is within the required range.
Original languageEnglish
JournalSensing and Bio-Sensing Research
Pages (from-to)84-89
Number of pages6
Publication statusPublished - 2015

Bibliographical note

This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license


  • Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy
  • Hydrogen cyanide
  • Pseudomonas aeruginosa
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Breath analysis


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