Combined extinction and absorption UV–vis spectroscopy reveals shape imperfections of metallic nanoparticles

Copyright © 2019 American Chemical Society. Metallic nanoparticle solutions are routinely characterized by measuring their extinction spectrum (with UV-vis spectroscopy). Theoretical predictions such as Mie theory for spheres can then be used to infer important properties, such as particle size and concentration. Here we highlight the benefits of measuring not only the extinction (the sum of absorption and scattering) but also the absorption spectrum (which excludes scattering) for routine characterization of metallic nanoparticles. We use an integrating sphere-based method to measure the combined extinction-absorption spectra of silver nanospheres and nanocubes. Using a suite of electromagnetic modeling tools (Mie theory, T-matrix, surface integral equation methods), we show that the absorption spectrum, in contrast to extinction, is particularly sensitive to shape imperfections such as roughness, faceting, or edge rounding. We study in detail the canonical case of silver nanospheres, where small discrepancies between experimental and calculated extinction spectra are still common and often overlooked. We show that this mismatch between theory and experiment becomes much more important when considering the absorption spectrum and can no longer be dismissed as experimental imperfections. We focus in particular on the quadrupolar localized plasmon resonance of silver nanospheres, which is predicted to be very prominent in the absorption spectrum but is not observed in our experiments. We consider and discuss a number of possible explanations to account for this discrepancy, including changes in the dielectric function of Ag, size polydispersity, and shape imperfections such as elongation, faceting, and roughness. We are able to pinpoint faceting and roughness as the likely causes for the observed discrepancy. A similar analysis is carried out on silver nanocubes to demonstrate the generality of this conclusion. We conclude that the absorption spectrum is in general much more sensitive to the fine details of a nanoparticle geometry, compared to the extinction spectrum. The ratio of extinction to absorption also provides a sensitive indicator of size for many types of nanoparticles, much more reliably than any observed plasmon resonance shifts. Overall, this work demonstrates that combined absorption-extinction measurements provide a much richer characterization tool for metallic nanoparticles.