American Journal of Anal yt ical Chemistry, 2011, 2, 589-604
doi:10.4236/ajac.2011.25067 Published Online September 2011 (
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
Development and Application of Time-Resolved Surface
Plasmon Resonance Spectrometer
Yan Mao, Yu Bao, Wei Wang, Zhenggang Li, Fenghua Li, Li Niu*
Changchun Institute of Applied Chemistry, Changchun, China
Received March 15, 2011; revised May 3, 2011; accepted May 16, 2011
Surface plasmon resonance (SPR) sensor, an optical sensor exploiting special electromagnetic waves-surface
plasmon polaritons to probe interactions between an analyte in solution and a molecular recognition element
immobilized on the SPR sensor surface, has been widely used in various realms, such as investigating bio-
molecular interactions and binding properties, detection of biological and chemical analytes, environmental
monitoring, food safety and medical diagnostics. This paper reviews the development of SPR sensors and
SPR commercial instruments, and emphatically introduces the time-resolved surface plasmon resonance
(TR-SPR) techniques. The excellent performances of high sensitivity and rapid detection are easily achieved
with TR-SPR spectrometer, whereas the traditional SPR spectrometer cannot be accomplished. Therefore,
TR-SPR spectrometer is appropriate for real time analysis of bio-recognition events and small molecular dy-
namics. However, only two commercial TR-SPR instruments have been exhibited at present, Thermo
FT-SPR 100 and Autolab ESPRIT (SPRINGLE). Unfortunately, the high-priced instruments are not suitable
for extensive applications in laboratories at present. Herein, a novel commercial TR-SPR spectrometer has
been introduced in this review.
Keywords: Surface Alasmon Resonance, Time-Resolved Surface Plasmon Resonance, SPR Sensor,
Time-Resolved Measurement
1. Introduction
Over the past decade, surface plasmon resonance (SPR)
sensors have attracted a great deal of attention. Myriads
of research reports have appeared describing advance-
ments in SPR sensor technology and its applications.
SPR sensor technology has been commercialized and
SPR sensors have become a crucial tool for characteriz-
ing and quantifying molecular interactions.
SPR detection method can be used to measure the dy-
namic adsorption process of the biological molecules on
the SPR sensor chip surface in real-time and in situ. The
concentration of the adsorbed biological molecules can
be acquired by measuring the resonance angle offset. In
addition, SPR sensor has many advantages, such as can
conveniently determine the molecular interactions in
real-time, have higher resolution than traditional methods,
do not need to tag the sample, require the minimal sam-
ple, etc. Therefore, SPR method has become a conven-
tional method on the detection of molecular interactions.
Besides, it has been widely used in the field of life sci-
ence, such as proteomics [1,2], cell signaling [3,4], re-
ceptor/ligand [5-8], antibody/antigen [9-14], immune
recognition [15,16], cancer research [17-20] and drug
screening [21], etc. SPR method also has been used for
real-time dynamic research on protein/protein [22], pro-
tein/nucleic acid [23], drug molecule/target protein [24]
during the molecular interactions. SPR method is be-
coming one of the leading analysis technologies for mo-
lecular interactions owing to its unique advantages. The
sensors based on SPR technology have widely applied in
biology, medicine, chemistry and other fields.
Since the performance of SPR sensor is often con-
strained by certain factors associated with the signal-
to-noise ratio (SNR) and the response time of the instru-
ment. Sometimes the angular resolution of the instrument
can become a limiting factor as well. Hence, improving
the resolution and response time of SPR detection are
important factors in all SPR sensor applications. Actually,
the excellent performances of high sensitivity and rapid
590 Y. MAO ET AL.
detection are easily achieved with TR-SPR spectrometer,
whereas the traditional SPR spectrometer cannot be ac-
complished. Thus, TR-SPR spectrometer is suitable for
bio-recognition events analysis and small molecular dy-
namics research. As a consequence, it is necessary to
build high-resolution SPR instrument which has several
excellent features, include simplicity, good linearity,
compactness, and immunity to ambient light. At present,
there are several high time-resolved surface plasmon
resonance spectrometers in laboratories, which based on
a bicell photodetector [25-27] or a large surface area sin-
gle cell photodiode [28]. However, only two commercial
TR-SPR instruments have been exhibited today, Thermo
FT-SPR 100 and Autolab ESPRIT (SPRINGLE). Unfor-
tunately, the high-priced instruments are not suitable for
wide applications in laboratories. Herein, this paper in-
troduced a novel commercial TR-SPR spectrometer with
high angular resolution (0.001˚) and time resolution
(<0.1 ms). The time resolution is better than or compara-
ble to those of most published sensograms for commonly
studied electrochemical and biological reactions [29-34].
2. The Principle of SPR Sensor
The most common approach to excitation of surface
plasmons (SP) is by means of a prism coupler and the
attenuated total reflection (ATR) method. There are two
configurations of the ATR method-Kretschmann geome-
try [35] and Otto geometry [36].
In the Kretschmann geometry of the ATR method, a
high refractive index prism with refractive index np is
interfaced with a metal-dielectric waveguide consisting
of a thin metal film with permittivity εm and thickness q,
and a semi-infinite dielectric film with a refractive index
nd (nd < np), as shown in Figure 1(a). When a light wave
propagating in the prism is made incident on the metal
film, a part of the light is reflected back into the prism
and the other part propagates in the metal in the form of
an inhomogeneous electromagnetic wave [37]. This in-
homogeneous wave decays exponentially in the direction
perpendicular to the prism-metal interface, so it is re-
ferred as to an evanescent wave. If the metal film is suf-
ficiently thin (less than 100 nm for light in visible and
near infrared part of spectrum), the evanescent wave
penetrates through the metal film and couples with a
surface plasmon at the outer boundary of the metal film.
In the Otto geometry, a high refractive index prism
with refractive index np is interfaced with a dielec-
tric-metal waveguide consisting of a thin dielectric film
with refractive index nd (nd < np) and thickness q, and a
semi-infinite metal film with permittivity εm, as shown in
Figure 1(b). A light wave incident on the
prism-dielectric film interface at an angle of incidence
larger than the critical angle of incidence for these two
media produces an evanescent wave propagating along
the interface between the prism and the dielectric film. If
the thickness of the dielectric layer is proper (typically
few microns), the evanescent wave and a surface plas-
mon at the dielectric-metal interface can couple with
each other. For the coupling to occur, the propagation
constant of the evanescent wave and that of the surface
plasmon have to be matched [38].
Surface plasmon is an electromagnetic wave oscillat-
ing on metal surface. Known from the electromagnetic
theory, the resonance can take place when two electro-
magnetic waves with the same frequency and waveverc-
tor. The frequency of surface plasmon triggered by the
evanescent wave is the same as the evanescent wave.
That is to say, as long as meet the condition, kx = ksp (kx
and ksp corresponds to the wavevector of evanescent
wave and surface plasmon which parallel to surface, re-
spectively), the resonance between the evanescent wave
and the surface plasmon occurs.
When the resonance occurs, the total internal reflec-
tion condition that takes place on the prism and the metal
interface is destroyed. It is called the attenuated total
internal reflection phenomenon. Thus, the reflection oc-
cur a minimum because the energy of the incident light
transfer to the surface plasmon. As described above, the
generation of the resonance is related to the angle of in-
cident light, the dielectric constant of metal film and the
refractive index of medium.
Figure 1. The schematic diagram of SPR sensor.
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
In SPR sensor, a surface plasmon is excited at the in-
terface between a metal film and a dielectric medium
(superstrate), changes in the refractive index of which are
to be measured. A change in the refractive index of the
superstrate leads to a change in the propagation constant
of the surface plasmon. This change alters the coupling
condition between a light wave and the surface plasmon,
which can be observed as a change in one of the charac-
teristics of the optical wave interacting with the surface
plasmon [39].
Another approach to optical excitation of surface
plasmons in based on the diffraction of light on a diffrac-
tion grating [40]. And surface plasmons can be also ex-
cited by modes of a dielectric waveguide [41].
3. The Development of SPR Sensor and SPR
Commercial Instruments
The development of SPR sensor is the pursuit of high
resolution and accuracy, and fast response. The optical
system of SPR sensor is in a continuous improvement.
Based on the method of surface plasmons excitation,
there are prism couplers, grating couplers, and wave-
guide couplers three SPR sensors.
The first documented observation of surface plasmons
dated back to 1902, when Wood illuminated a metallic
diffraction grating with polychromatic light and noticed
narrow dark bands in the spectrum of the diffracted light,
which referred as to anomalies [42,43]. Theoretical work
by Fano [44] concluded that these anomalies were asso-
ciated with the excitation of electromagnetic surface
waves on the surface of the diffraction grating. In 1957,
Ritchie explained the phenomenon of energy loss at the
interface in theory, and proposed the intrinsic plasmon
oscillation model which belonged to metal interface [45].
Two years later, Powell and Swan verified the correct-
ness of the Ritchie’s theory experimentally [46]. Stern
and Farrell put forward the concept of Surface Plasmon
for the first time in 1960 [47]. In 1968, two German sci-
entists, Kretshchmann [35] and Otto [36] used the ATR
method to achieve the SPR optical excitation, respec-
tively. And they made the combination of simple optical
circuits possible to study the SPR phenomenon (most of
the current SPR analysis apparatus still used the similar
optical design of them). Otto suggested that under spe-
cific condition, the frequency of the incident light and
the surface plasmon wave were the same, which would
lead to surface plasmon resonance effect. Then he gave
the design of the Otto model. Kretschmann proposed a
new rough surface perturbation theory, and designed a
new Kretschmann model which was the equivalent
model of Otto’s [48]. The emergence of the two models
provided a broad prospect for the SPR sensor in produc-
tion and application.
Gordon studied the interface electrochemical proper-
ties by SPR method for the first time in 1980 [49,50].
Two Swedish scientists, Nylander and Liedberg, firstly
applied SPR technology to chemical sensors field in
1982 [51,52]. Meanwhile, they successfully used SPR
technology for gas detection and real-time antigen-anti-
body interactions monitoring. In addition, they firstly
developed the SPR gas sensor and biological sensor tri-
umphantly, which lay the foundation of the biomolecular
interactions measurement.
In 1984, Tiefenthaler [53] firstly employed input and
output grating couplers and Bragg reflector gratings to
demonstrate new switching and gas-sensing effects in
integrated optics. In late 1987, Cullen carried out the
grating SPR sensor, which acquired information by
measuring the changes of light intensity [54]. Vukusic et
al. had also realized grating SPR sensor during 1992-
1994, but made use of the wavelength as a variable. The
sensor could obtain the measurement sensitivity of 1000
nm/RIU (refractive index units) on a silver-coated grat-
ing surface [55].
In 1991, Karlsson [56] reported a sophisticated me-
thod for analyzing the antigen-antibody immune resp-
onse dynamics for the first time by employing the
BIAcore systems. They calculated the dissociation rate
constant of HIV-1 core protein P24 through the mathe-
matical derivation and dynamic analysis. It should be
pointed out that this dynamic analysis method can be
used for many other affinity reaction categories almost
without modification. On the basis of this method, many
dynamic analysis methods for other types of biological
molecules affinity reactions have been quickly estab-
lished by the research team of the BIAcore corporation
and its cooperation laboratories. Otherwise, in 1992,
Fägerstam [57] utilized this system and method for ana-
lyzing the growth factor of insulin and the kinetics of
binding sites. They successfully carried out dynamic
analysis and monitored small molecules in solution,
which was another major breakthrough in the detection
of biological molecules affinity reactions and kinetic
The prism couplers SPR senor was not suitable for
remote sensing, because the volume of this kind SPR
sensor was large. In 1993, Jorgenson and Yee [58] of
University of Washington firstly proposed the fiber-optic
SPR configuration. They brought forward the fiber core
as the carrier of the SPR excitation and employed the
fiber as the first layer to substitute the large prism. The
sensing element of the fiber has been fabricated by re-
moving a section of the fiber cladding and symmetrically
depositing a thin layer of highly reflecting metal onto the
fiber core. Furthermore, they suggest such a sensor to
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
592 Y. MAO ET AL.
measure the liquid refractive index with 2.4 × 10–4 - 7.5
× 10–5 accuracy. Meanwhile, due to the small probe of
these kind sensors, the object could be detected without
destroying the structure, thus further broadening the ap-
plications of surface plasma wave sensor.
In 1994, Jory [55] applied the acousto-optic modulator
to the grating SPR sensor, which could detect the wave-
length change of 5 × 10–4 nm. The resolution of SPR
sensor measurement could achieve 1 × 10–6 RIU based
on this method. In the same year, Nilitin [59] of General
Physics Institute of Russian Academy of Sciences, clev-
erly fabricated SPR grating by using the Schottky-barrier
structure in semiconductor technology, and the resolution
arrived at 1 × 10–5 RIU. While the biggest advantage of
this configuration was that the metal layer thickness re-
quirement was less stringent than the coupling prism
manner. Since then, some reports on the grating SPR
sensor have come forth, but the application scope of
these sensors was relatively narrow compared to other
types SPR sensors. The main reasons, on one hand, there
was a certain degree of difficulty on the grating fabrica-
tion. On the other hand, the sample needed to be achro-
matous in the grating SPR application. For the reason
that the light went through the sample during the meas-
urement process, it would produce light absorption if the
sample solution was colored which might affect SPR
Nelson [60] of University of Washington suggested
that if the experiment device was well designed, phase
detection could measure refractive index change of 5 ×
10–7 RIU after compared the resolution test of the phase
detection and the light intensity detection in 1996. In the
next year, Nikitin [61,62] reported a novel SPR inter-
ferometric technique, and the resolution of SPR interfer-
ence phase detection was several orders of magnitude
higher than the light intensity detection.
In 2002, Ho [63] of the Chinese University of Hong
Kong, utilized Mach-Zehnder interferometer to perform
interferometric analysis between the two orthogonal po-
larizations in the exit beam. Wu [64,65] of Tsinghua
University, studied heterodyne interferometric system
and further improved the sensor sensitivity and anti-
jamming capability. The refractive index change of 2 ×
10–7 RIU could be detected in the experiment. In 2004
and 2005, Ho et al. [66,67] further improved their pro-
posed approach. They used two interferometric systems
to depress the mechanical movement, which could re-
duce the mechanical error brought from the resulting
system. Meanwhile, the noise errors of the system could
be eliminated and compensated by taking advantage of
digital signal collection and analysis procedure. There-
fore, the sensitivity and stability could be improved, and
the detection limit was 7.4 ng/mL experimentally.
The development of SPR sensor is not limited to labo-
ratories. In order to provide effective means for many
researchers and promote the greater use of SPR sensors,
the commercial SPR instruments developed at a fast
speed. The Linkoping Institute of Technology together
with the Swedish National Defense Research Institute
co-founded the Pharmacia Biosensor AB company (the
company changed its name to BIAcore AB in 1996),
developed the world’s first commercial SPR biomolecu-
lar interactions analyzer-BIAcoreTM during 1989 - 1990
[68]. Afterward, the SPR biosensor research has been
comprehensively launched and continued to deepen.
Meanwhile, the application scope of SPR biosensors was
A number of commercial SPR sensor instruments are
available [69]. Although BIAcore systems have domi-
nated the market since their introduction [70], there are
many more competing SPR instruments now available. A
list of product names and their manufactures can be
found in Table 1 .
The BIAcore instruments were the most advanced,
sensitive, accurate, reliable, reproducible direct biosensor
technique and SPR became (and still is) the ‘‘golden
standard’’ of transducer principles for measuring real-
time biomolecular interactions. Since the early 1990s,
producers have been struggling to meet the standards set
by BIAcore. The original BIAcore instruments were
fully automated, including sample handing equipment for
the immobilization, auto-sampling, SPR analysis, and
regeneration of the sensor surface. The instruments per-
mit a range of concentration assay, activity detection,
kinetic analysis, affinity measurement, and fast screen-
Table 1. A list of product names and their manufacture s.
Name Manufacturer Company
BIAcore BIAcore AB Sweden
IASys Affinity Sensors America
Spreeta TM Texas Instruments America
Quantech SPRQuantech America
SPR-670 Nippon Laser &
Electronics Lab Japan
Kinomics BioTul Bio
Instruments GmbH Germany
IBIS-iSPR IBIS Technologies BV Netherlands
Scientific Windsor Scientific United
SPR-2000 Institute of Electronics,
Chinese Academy of Sciences China
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
The BIAcore 2000 instrument was introduced in 1994
with improved detection and a different flow system so
that the sample could interact at four spots on the sensor.
Data of the reference spot could be used for signal cor-
rection. With the introduction of BIAcore 2000, it also
became possible to monitor directly interactions of small
molecule analytes reacting with immobilized protein
ligands [71]. Kobayashi [72] used BIAcore 2000 to
phase-solubility studies, for evaluating the solubilizing
effects of cyclodextrins (CDs) on lipophilic, water-in-
soluble drugs. Papalia [73] used BIAcore’s new regener-
ateable streptavidin capture (CAP) sensor chips to inves-
tigated a number of biotinylation conditions for target
ligands by using Biacore 2000 and T100 instruments.
Glück [74] employed BIAcore T100 to quantify the
binding of the nanodisc-inserted histidine-tagged protein
to a monoclonal anti-pentahistidine antibody. Patel [75]
used a BIAcore 3000 biosensor to analyze the binding
kinetics of a recombinant monoclonal antibodies (mAb)
and its single-chain antibody homolog, single-chain
variable fragment (scFv).
Fisons Instruments [76] made great attempts to com-
pete with BIAcore’s technology. Their cuvette-based
IAsys instrument uses evanescent eld-based technology,
essentially not SPR, for the study of biomolecular inter-
actions. Natori [77] used a surface plasmon resonance
(SPR)-based resonant mirror biosensor (IAsys) to ana-
lyze the surface properties of phytochrome A (phy A),
the epitopes of 21 anti-phy A monoclonal antibodies
were determined by variously engineered recombinant
phy A proteins and the dissociation constants of seven
anti-phy A monoclonal antibodies with phy A were
The high cost of BIAcore instruments has provided a
niche for other companies such as Texas Instruments (TI)
to supply inexpensive SPR sensors with immunoassay
capability. TI has introduced the SPR device Spreeta [78].
Noteworthy features of the Spreeta device include two
thermistors (in the sensor and flow cell) to compensate
for SPR’s sensitivity to temperature fluctuations. The
sensor performance is quantified by a measurable refrac-
tive index change of 10–5 [79]. Nanduri [80] used the
Nomadics SPR3 system of a SPREETA3TM
three-channel sensor to study, and demonstrated that
phage-displayed antibodies (scFv fusions to pIII ) can be
used as the biorecognition element for specific and sensi-
tive detection of L. monocytogenes.
Quantech, founded in 1991, is completing develop-
ment of a relatively inexpensive multitest critical care
diagnostic system based on SPR detection. Regardless,
this is the first example of SPR immunoassay instrument
specifically designated for medical analysis. In contrast
to the BIAcore instruments, using prisms to couple the
incident light to the gold sensing film, Quantech uses a
grating surface coated with a thin layer of gold for its
disposable. The first tests are likely to aid the diagnosis
of heart attack patients [81].
Satio [82] synthesized a water-insoluble phospholipid
polymer bearing a phenylboronic acid moiety (PMBV),
which induces cell adhesion through a specic interac-
tion with the glycoprotein, bronectin. The binding af-
finity between fibronectin and the PMBV surface was
estimated by SPR-670M.
Almost six years ago, Kinomics GmbH was founded
with the aim to establish time and material saving meth-
odologies in affinity-based biosensor. As a result, the
Multi-Step Kinetics (MSK) invented by Kinomics was
taken over in an exclusive cooperation by BIAcore AB
(now part of GE Healthcare) in 2006, shortly after, mar-
keted as Single-Cycle Kinetics (SCK), although much
less flexible than MSK (what a comparative test may
reveal). Since early 2006, already three papers [83-85]
have been published that utilize Kinomics’ parent-pe-
nding, time- and sample-saving MSK principle of un-
necessary intermediate regeneration in affinity-based
In 1995, the cuvette based SPR system of IBIS Tech-
nologies was launched. The instrument was compatible
with the BIAcore sensor chip. In 1997, the IBIS II, a
two-channel cuvette-based SPR instrument with auto-
sampler operation, was introduced [86]. Following the
merger with the sensor chip coating company Ssens BV
in 1999, the development of an SPR imaging instrument
was initiated at IBIS Technologies. In 2007, the devel-
opment of the IBIS-iSPR instrument, with the scanning
angle principle, resulted in the required reliability and
accuracy for microarray imaging of multiple biomolecu-
lar interactions. Raz [87] examined the possibilities of
implementing direct and competitive immunoassay for-
mats for small and large molecule detection on a mi-
croarray, using IBIS imaging surface plasmon resonance
(iSPR) system.
The Autolab SPR instrumentation helps the scientist to
analyze biomolecular interactions in real time, without
labeling requirements. García-Aljaro [88] used a two-
channel microfluidic SPR sensor device (Windsor Scien-
tific) to detect the presence of somatic coliphages, a
group of bacteriophages that have been proposed as fecal
pollution indicators in water, employed their host, Es-
cherichia coli WG5, as a target for their selective detec-
The Institute of Electronics, Chinese Academy of
Sciences, has manufactured SPR-2000 in 2001 [89]. Hu-
ang used SPR-2000 spectroscopy to monitor the regular
growth of the multilayer films which electrostatic
layer-by-layer (LbL) assembly by negatively charged
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
594 Y. MAO ET AL.
citrate-stabilized platinum nanoparticles (Pt NPs) and
positively charged [tetrakis(N-methylpyridyl) prophyri-
nato] cobalt [90].
However, from the description above, it is obvious to
see that the major application of SPR sensor focus on
studying the interactions between large biomolecules,
small molecular dynamics is seldom monitored by con-
ventional SPR technique because the changes in the re-
fractive index resulted from the binding process of small
molecules are often small. Therefore, direct assay of
small molecules by SPR sensor in general is troublesome
and at least tedious procedures have to be applied. Some
methods have been used to improve the sensitivity of
SPR sensor for detecting small molecules. For instance,
employed polymers with high molecular weight as a
transduction layer to increase the changes in the refrac-
tive index at the sensing interface triggered by small
molecules [91], utilized the conformational change of
macromolecules or proteins switched by small molecules
to amplify the change of SPR signal [92,93], used of a
high molecular weight ligand that competed with the
small molecular weight analyte for receptor binding. Liu
[94] detailed the incorporation of a water-soluble deep
cavitand into a membrane bilayer assembled onto a
nanoglassified surface for study of molecular recognition
in a membrane-mimicking setting. Kawaguchi [95] de-
veloped a new immunosensor based on self-assembly
chemistry for highly sensitive and label-free detection of
TNT. In the past years, Au nanoparticles have been ap-
plied to enhance the sensitivity of SPR sensor to detect
small molecules. The electronic coupling interaction
between the localized surface plasmon of the Au
nanoparticles and the surface plasmon wave associated
with the SPR gold film enabled enhancing the shift of
SPR angle. Matsui [96] prepared molecularly imprinted
polymer gel with embedded gold nanoparticle on a gold
substrate of a chip for a SPR sensor for fabricating an
SPR sensitive to a low molecular weight analyte, TNT.
The molecular imprinted polymer with immobilized Au
nanoparticle exhibited selective binding of a small
molecule accompanied by swelling, which caused the
greater distance between the immobilized Au nanoparti-
Sensitive detection of small molecules using SPR
sensor presents significant challenges as the antigen
cannot serve as a signal generator because of its low
mass. Efficient binding of the target requires the binding
event to be spaced from the sensor surface through a
specialist linker conjugation. Intermediate linkers can be
used to provide optimal antigen presentation in flow-
through assay format. The binding of the analyte in the
presence of compounds under investigation in a concen-
tration range is assayed. The resulting inhibition curves
of the equilibrium SPR signal as function of the com-
pound concentration can be analyzed to yield thermody-
namic binding constants for the interaction in solution
between analyte and the compounds under investigate.
However, the combination of small molecules and the
antibody which fixed on gold-chip is a very fast process,
the whole combination process can’t be achieved with
ordinary means. Therefore, it is necessary to apply the
time-resolved techniques to detect small molecular dy-
Tao [25] described a new SPR detection method that
has been allowed to achieve an angular resolution of 10-5
deg (10–8 RIU) and time response of 1μs. The method
uses a convergent beam focused onto a thin metal film,
but the total internal reflection is collected by a bicell
photodetector instead of a CCD or a LDA. The reflected
light falling on the two cells of the photodetector is first
balanced so that the SPR dip is located near the center of
the photodetector. A small shift in the dip position causes
an imbalance in the two cells which is detected as a
change in the differential signal of the bicell photodetec-
tor. Because the ratio of the differential signal to the sum
signal of the bicell photodetector is linearly proportional
to the shift in the SPR angle and can be easily amplified
without saturation problem, it provides an accurate de-
tection of SPR.
Pettit [28] discussed a relatively simple method for
time resolved detection of electrochemical effects using
SPR under potentiodynamic condition. The SPR experi-
ments are performed with a collimated laser beam at a
fixed wavelength using the Kretshchmann configuration.
The instrument uses a commonly available fast photodi-
ode for signal detection, and has an angular resolution of
10–3 deg, a temporal resolution (~500 μs) better than or
comparable to those of most published sensograms for
commonly studied electrochemical and biological reac-
tions. In their work, they examined the theoretical con-
siderations of the collimated-light time resolved SPR
technique. Using analytical formulas as well as numeri-
cal calculations for a six-phase configuration, they
showed that the basic approach of that method is quite
general, and is applicable to a large variety of experi-
mental system. The transient SPR response of the elec-
trode to voltage variations contains features of certain
interfacial effects that cannot be detected using electro-
chemical measurements alone. This SPR technique is
suitable for studying both faradaic and nonfaradaic rea-
Besides the laboratory time-resolved SPR (TR-SPR),
Thermo FT-SPR 100 and Autolab ESPRIT (SPRINGLE)
are the two most versatile TR-SPR commercial instru-
ments on the market.
Department of molecular spectroscopy of Thermo
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
Electron Corporation (Nicolet) in its past forty years
Fourier transform infrared (FTIR) technology combined
with the latest SPR patented technology (US Patent No.
6330062), introduced a new Fourier-transform surface
plasmon resonance (FT-SPR) detector-SPR 100. FT-SPR
system performs SPR detection by wavelength scanning
in the near infra-red region. There are many benefits of
FT-SPR detector. It has high sensitivity with capabilities
include detection of film thickness changes of < 1 Å, the
binding of small molecules to the immobilized proteins,
and low affinity molecular interactions. This system has
the greatest dynamic range of any other commercially
available SPR systems. Operating from ~12,000 to 5,800
cm–1, the SPR 100 captures quantitative data for major
surface changes as well as subtle ones. Besides, the ap-
plication scope of this system is diverse. The broad scope
is due to the combination of broad spectral range with
broad incident light angles from ~ 40˚ - 70˚. Measure-
ments can be made in liquid or in gas phases, and on
metals or conducting metal oxides (CMOs), further ex-
panding the usefulness of this system. Furthermore, the
FT-IR spectrometer with the SPR 100 module provides
fully functioning infrared spectroscopic capabilities that
allow researchers to gain insight into the chemical in-
formation of the binding layers.
Applications of FT-SPR analysis include the quantita-
tive characterization of protein-protein, protein-ligand
and protein-nucleic acid interactions, antibody-antigen
interactions, Langmuir-Blodgett films, self-assembled
monolayers, organic thin films, etc. Frutos [97] described
the application of SPR measurements to the study of ul-
trathin organic films adsorbed onto gold surfaces utiliz-
ing near-infrared (NIR) excitation from a Fourier trans-
form (FT) spectrometer. Upon adsorption of a thin bio-
polymer film from solution, a shift in the minimum is
observed that can be correlated to a film thickness using
Fresnel calculations. FT-SPR using Au (111) chips mo-
dified by a 1,3-alternate calix[4]arene-crown-6 derivative
was proposed by Arena [98] as a method to detect Cs+ at
the ppb level. Zhao [99] provided a new concept for de-
signing an SWNT-induced DNA nanomachine and for
the detection of i-motif DNA structure at pH 7.0. The
folding and unfolding kinetics of the DNA nanomachine
on gold surface were studied by FT-SPR. Three sensitive
and original transduction techniques, polarization modu-
lation–reection absorption infrared spectroscopy (PM–
RAIRS), quartz crystal microbalance with dissipation
measurements (QCM–D), and Fourier transform–surface
plasmon resonance (FT–SPR), have been used by Bou-
jday [100] to monitor the immobilization of anti-rabbit
immunoglobulins (anti-rIgGs) and the detection of rIgGs
on gold transducers. Their performances were compared
after having checked that the layers adsorbed on the three
different gold substrates were identical. Interestingly, the
three techniques suggested that the antibody coverage
got saturated for approximately 20 μg/ml in solution. In
the very low concentration range (1 μg/ml), antibody
binding was detected by the three techniques, but FT–
SPR leads to an intense signal with a wavenumber shift
of approximately 30 cm–1; one may expect, by FT–SPR,
a detection limit of the order of a few tenths of μg/ml.
The Autolab ESPRIT is a dual-channel system allows
us to run multiple samples on a fully automated system,
including sample recovery if required. With two chan-
nels, one can be used for sample measurement and the
second as a reference for non-specific binding compen-
sation temperature. The Autolab SPRINGLE is a sin-
gle-channel unit with a compact design, making it an
affordable alternative for research chemists who want a
superior measurement technique. The Autolab SPR sys-
tems perform angular scanning SPR detection in the an-
gle range of 68˚ to 78˚ with the dynamic range resolution
< 5 × 10–4. The most prominent advantage of the Autolab
SPR systems is high measuring frequency-76Hz which
makes it suitable for studying the dynamics of bio-
molecular interactions and drugs-proteins interactions.
SPR technique has become a standard tool in life sci-
ences and pharmaceutical research laboratories. It is es-
sential to study and characterize molecular interactions,
explore the structure-function relationships of biomo-
lecules and understand biological systems in life sciences.
The Autolab SPR system also offers a unique ability to
combine both SPR and electrochemistry measurement,
including cyclic voltammetry, chrono-amperometry as
well as impedance spectroscopy. The new aspect of this
analysis, simultaneous electrochemical analysis also
plays a unique role in the better understanding of the
nature of these molecular interactions. In addition, ki-
netic analysis software of the Autolab SPR system can be
used to automatically determine kinetic rate constants,
affinity constant and thermodynamic parameter. Dutra
[101] developed a SPR sensor in real time to detect the
biomarker-cardiac troponin (cTnT) on Autolab SPIRIT.
An Autolab potentiostat/galvanostat (PGSTAT30, Echo
Chemie B.V., the Netherlands) was connected to the
Autolab SPRINGLE system to enable electrochemical
modulation during in situ electrochemical-optical meas-
urements. Hu [102] used it to in situ investigate the elec-
trochemical growth process of poly(pyrrole-co-pyrrole
propylic acid) (PPy/PPa) composite films. The SPR and
electrochemical signals were recorded simultaneously
during the first cycle. In the electropolymerization proc-
ess, cyclic voltammetry at scan rate of 100mV/s. The
SPR and electrochemical signals could record simulta-
neously at a high scan rate-100mV/s, which indicated the
measuring frequency of Autolab SPR system was very
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
596 Y. MAO ET AL.
high compared with other apparatus [91,103]. Hu [104]
also used it to study the assembly process of multiwalled
carbon nanotubes (MWCNTs) quantitatively on an al-
kanethiol self-assembled monolayer (SAM) surface. And
they further in situ investigated protein attachment on the
MWCNT surface and its sensing application quantita-
4. Introduction of a new Commercial
Time-Resolved Surface Plasmon
Resonance (TR-SPR) Spectroscopy
The Autolab SPR system offers a unique ability to com-
bine both SPR spectroscopy and electrochemistry system.
The SPR technology can combine with not only electro-
chemistry methods (stripping voltammetry [105,106],
cyclic voltammetry (CV) [107-109], electrochemical im-
pedance spectroscopy (EIS) [110]), but also other analy-
sis techniques, such as spectral analysis (fluorescence
spectra [111-113], infrared spectrum [114,115], inter-
ferometry [116,117]), mass spectrometry (MS) [118,
119], atomic force microscope (AFM) [120] and quartz
crystal microbalance (QCM) [121,122]. The combination
of SPR and electrochemistry, often called electrochemi-
cal surface plasmon resonance (EC-SPR), has been
widely used. The electrochemical and SPR signals can be
detected simultaneously, which is the most significant
advantage of EC-SPR. The SPR sensor is extremely sen-
sitive to the concentration variety of material adsorbed
on the sensor chip surface and redox substances dis-
solved in the electrolyte. Meanwhile, the Faraday current
is proportional to the concentration gradient of the elec-
trode surface. Therefore, EC-SPR can supply some in-
formation about electrochemical reaction process of a
wide range in electrochemical fields. It can be used to
characterize the interface between the electrode and so-
lution [50,123], study the doping-dedoping process
[124-126] and the adsorption-desorption reactions [107,
127,128], detect trace substance [105,129,130], determi-
nate the film thickness and permittivity [131-133].
However, the combination of electrochemistry and SPR
requires SPR spectroscopy has high time resolution.
From the introduction above, it is necessary to build
TR-SPR spectrometer with high time resolution, which
can not only study small molecular dynamics, but also
combine with electrochemistry for electrochemical reac-
tion process studying. Consequently, the application scope
of SPR sensor can greatly expand. However, only two
commercial TR-SPR instruments are available right at
present, Thermo FT-SPR 100 and Autolab ESPRIT
(SPRINGLE). Unfortunately, the high-priced instru-
ments are not suitable for wide applications in laborato-
ries. Therefore, a novel commercial TR-SPR spectrome-
ter is introduced with a high angular resolution (0.001˚)
and a temporal resolution (< 0.1ms). The time resolution
is better than or comparable to those of most published
sensograms for commonly studied electrochemical and
biological reactions.
There are angular, wavelength, intensity, phase and po-
larization modulation SPR sensors. Moreover, the major
points of the new commercial TR-SPR development
were around angular modulation and intensity modula-
tion. These two methods are realized as follows:
In SPR sensor with angular modulation a monochro-
matic light wave excites a surface plasmon. The strength
of coupling between the incident wave and the surface
plasmon is observed at multiple angles of incidence of
the light wave and the angle of incidence yielding the
strongest coupling is measured and used as a sensor out-
put. The sensor output can be calibrated to refractive
SPR sensors with intensity modulation are based on
measuring the strength of the coupling between the inci-
dent light wave and a surface plasmon at a single angle
of incidence. And the intensity of light wave serves as a
sensor output.
This new generation time-resolved surface plasmon
resonance (TR-SPR) spectrometer is shown in Figure
2(a). The method used for surface plasmon detection was
ATR spectrometer. Surface plasmon spectroscopic data
were collected using Kretschmann optical configuration,
as shown schematically in Figure 2(b). The evaporated
gold film (thickness 46 nm) on the glass microscope
slide was used as surface plasmon medium. The evapo-
rated chromium as an adhesion layer (thickness 1.5 nm)
was used to avoid the peeling of gold during SPR ex-
periments. The glass slide with the evaporated gold on
the opposite side was pressed on a ZK7 cylindrical glass
prism (n = 1.6130) via an index matching liquid. The
gold surface of the slide was covered with silicone rub-
ber sheet with a hole for the electrolyte contact. The
linearly p-polarized light from a laser diode (650 nm, 5
mW) was directly through the prism onto the gold chip.
The intensity of the reflected light was measured by a
two current photoelectric position transducer with a 30
 m gap. In SPR measurements, two modes, angular
modulation and intensity modulation, record the shift of
resonance minimum angle and the “light changes” at a
fixed angle. The two modes can be chosen to study dif-
ferent surface processes. The “light changes” expressed
A + B or (A – B)/(A + B), A and B represented the light
intensity collected by the two photovoltaic cells, respe-
citvely. The ratio of the differential signal to the sum
signal of the bicell photodetector, (A – B)/(A + B), is
linearly proportional to the SPR angle shift, it provides
an accurate measurement of shift in surface plasmon
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
resonance angle caused by the adsorption of molecules
onto the metal films or by conformational changes in the
adsorbed molecules [25].
There are several advantages of this TR-SPR spec-
trometer. The apparatus has high precision with the ac-
curacy of resonance angle measurement is 0.001˚, which
includes the mechanical correction. Meanwhile, the time
resolution of the TR-SPR system is extremely high. The
SPR data collection rate is less than 0.1 ms (10 kHz) in
the fixed angle mode, which is much faster than the
Autolab SPR system besides other SPR systems. The
application scope can greatly be expanded by the high
time resolution. This TR-SPR spectroscopy can be easily
used to explore the assemble dynamic of mercapto-
propionic acid on the gold-chip, as shown as an example
in Figure 3(a). The morphine detection is shown in Fig-
ure 3(b). Figure 3(c) shows the polyaniline characteri-
zation with simultaneously cyclic voltammetry of high
scan rate and fixed angle SPR mode. Another advantage
is such TR-SPR spectrometer has a wide measuring
range. The angle scan range of the mechanical scanning
system is 50˚ ~ 72˚, and the refractive index range of the
response measurement sample is about 1.00 ~ 1.40.
Owing to the high time resolution, the new TR-SPR
system offers an possibility to combine SPR with elec-
trochemistry measurement, not only the conventional
electrochemical techniques (e.g. cyclic voltammetry, lin-
ear sweep voltammetry, open circuit potential-time, am-
perometric i-t curve, etc), but also make it possible for
the transient electrochemical techniques (e.g. chronoam-
perometry, chronocoulometry, differential pulse volt-
ammetry, normal pulse voltammetry, square wave volt-
ammetry, etc) with electrochemical current detection rate
Figure 2. The picture (a) and the configuration schematic
diagram (b) of the new commercial TR-SPR spectrometer.
Figure 3. The assembly dynamics of 5mM mercaptopropi-
onic acid in ethanol absorbed on the gold chip (a), mor-
phine detection on the fixed angle model (b), polyaniline
characterization at different scan rate (c).
greater than 1 kHz. In order to acquire more information
from various systems, the single-wavelength laser will be
replaced by three-wavelength laser (532 nm, 660 nm and
780 nm) in the next plan. It is believed that with the in-
troduction of the new TR-SPR instrument and a series of
novel sensor surfaces, the impact of SPR sensors on mo-
lecular interaction studies will continue to grow. With
improved experimental design and advanced data analy-
sis methods, high-quality data for the determination of
kinetic parameters of molecular interactions phenomena
Copyright © 2011 SciRes. AJAC
598 Y. MAO ET AL.
can be obtained. These data promise additional insights
into the mechanisms of molecular binding events, which
will be important for function-regulatory protein interac-
tions studies in order to unravel the exciting processes in
living species. In addition, such a TR-SPR sensor system
hold potential for many other applications of paramount
importance, including detection of contaminants related
to environmental monitoring, human health indicators for
medical diagnostics, foodborne pathogens and toxins
implicated in food safety and security.
4. Conclusions
Over the past ten years, surface plasmon resonance (SPR)
sensor technology has made great strides, and a large
number of SPR sensor platforms, biomolecular recogni-
tion elements, measurement formats have been devel-
oped. From the development of SPR sensors and com-
mercial SPR instruments, it is obvious to see that small
molecular dynamics is seldom detected by conventional
SPR technique because the refractive index changes re-
sulted from the binding process of small molecules are
often small and the binding process is very fast. Al-
though some methods have been used to improve the
sensitivity of SPR for detecting small molecules, direct
assay of small molecules by SPR sensor in general is
troublesome and at least tedious procedures have to be
applied. However, the new commercial TR-SPR spec-
troscopy can directly detect small molecular assembly
dynamics due to its high time resolution.
Major SPR sensor application areas include investi-
gating biomolecular interactions and binding properties,
detection of biological and chemical analytes, environ-
mental monitoring, food safety and medical diagnostics.
Applications in these areas present unique challenges and
impose special requirement on analytical technologies,
such as pharmaceutical research needs laboratory-based
high-throughput systems with high sensitivity to facili-
tate parallel screening, environmental monitoring would
benefit from detection systems which could be deployed
in the field for continuous monitoring and from mobile
systems enabling fast identification of environmental
threat. Hence, there is a trend to build the SPR instru-
ments to meet diverse requirements. The new commer-
cial TR-SPR spectroscopy offers a possibility to combine
SPR with transient electrochemical techniques, which
broadens the application scope of SPR on a large degree.
5. Acknowledgements
The authors are most grateful to the NSFC (No.20827004),
Department of Science and Technology of Jilin Province
(No.20080518), and Chinese Academy of Sciences (No.
YZ200906 and YZ2010018) for their financial support.
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