SPR Principles

Surface plasmon resonance (SPR) is the resonant oscillation of conduction electrons at the interface between a negative and positive permittivity material stimulated by incident light. The resonance condition is established when the frequency of incident photons matches the natural frequency of surface electrons oscillating against the restoring force of positive nuclei. SPR is the basis of many standard tools for measuring adsorption of material onto planar metal (typically gold or silver) surfaces or onto the surface of metal nanoparticles. It is the fundamental principle behind many color-based biosensor applications and different lab-on-a-chip sensors.


The surface plasmon polariton is a non-radiative electromagnetic surface wave that propagates in a direction parallel to the negative permittivity/dielectric material interface. Since the wave is on the boundary of the conductor and the external medium (air, water or vacuum for example), these oscillations are very sensitive to any change of this boundary, such as the adsorption of molecules to the conducting surface. Typical metals that support surface plasmons are silver and gold, but metals such as copper, titanium or chromium have also been used.


The first SPR immunoassay was proposed in 1983 by Liedberg, Nylander, and Lundström, then of the Linköping Institute of Technology (Sweden). They adsorbed human IgG onto a 600-angstrom silver film, and used the assay to detect anti-human IgG in water solution. Unlike many other immunoassays, such as ELISA, an SPR immunoassay is label free in that a label molecule is not required for detection of the analyte.


SPR angle

The most commonly used set-up is the angular SPR, also known as resonant angle SPR.

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SPR reflectivity measurements can be used to detect molecular adsorption, such as polymers, DNA or proteins, etc. Technically, it is common that the angle of the reflection minimum (absorption maximum) is measured. This angle changes in the order of 0.1° during thin (about nm thickness) film adsorption. In other cases the changes in the absorption wavelength is followed. The mechanism of detection is based on that the adsorbing molecules cause changes in the local index of refraction, changing the resonance conditions of the surface plasmon waves.