The Raman effect is a scientific phenomenon where light interacts with molecules, causing them to emit light at different energies due to their vibrations. This emitted light, known as Raman scattering, carries information about the molecular composition and structure, allowing scientists to study and analyze the properties of materials on a molecular level.

The Raman Scattering and Effect in the Simplest Terms

Think of Raman scattering as a magical dance party for molecules. When light arrives at the party and chats with the molecules, some of them get excited and start wiggling and jiggling around. This excitement causes them to emit their own particular light patterns, like colorful fireworks.

This emitted light is the Raman effect in action. Just like each dance move tells us about the dancer’s style, the light patterns from Raman scattering tell scientists about the molecules’ unique structure and behavior. So, Raman scattering is like the lively interaction at the dance party, and the Raman effect is the cool light show that reveals the secrets of the molecules’ moves.

Basic Principle of Raman Scattering

The principle of Raman scattering is based on the interaction between light and molecules. When light, typically from a laser, strikes a molecule, some of the photons in the light interact with the molecule’s electrons and cause them to become temporarily excited to higher energy levels. 

As these excited electrons return to their original energy levels, they emit light with slightly different energies than the incident light. This shift in energy, known as the Raman shift, is characteristic of the molecular vibrations and rotations within the molecule. The shift may be to lower energy (Stokes scattering) or higher energy (Anti-Stokes scattering).

what is raman scattering

Raman Spectroscopy

Raman spectroscopy measures these energy shifts in the scattered light and produces a spectrum that provides information about the molecular composition, structure, and behavior of the material being studied. 

In other words, Raman spectroscopy is a powerful analytical tool that is based on the principles of Raman scattering and is used to characterize a wide range of materials, from gases and liquids to solids, at the molecular level.

Types of Raman Spectroscopy

Some of the commonly used types of Raman spectroscopy have been given and how each affects the Raman scattering phenomenon:

Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS)

SERS enhances the Raman scattering effect by placing molecules on specially designed surfaces. This results in stronger signals, facilitating the study of even trace amounts of substances. SERS taps into the interaction between light, molecules, and nanostructured surfaces to amplify the Raman scattering phenomenon, opening new paths for sensitive chemical analysis.

Coherent Anti-Stokes Raman Scattering (CARS)

CARS elevates Raman scattering to a higher level of sensitivity. By utilizing two laser beams, CARS produces an intensified signal that provides deeper insights into molecular vibrations. This non-linear process enhances the Raman effect, enabling studies of complex samples like biological tissues and enabling imaging at the microscopic level.

Micro Raman Spectroscopy

Micro Raman spectroscopy takes Raman scattering to a smaller scale, allowing precise examination of microscopic regions. This technique combines Raman scattering with microscopy, enabling scientists to analyze the chemical composition of tiny samples with high spatial resolution. 

Resonance Raman Spectroscopy

This type zooms in on specific molecular vibrations. By targeting particular energy levels of molecules, resonance Raman spectroscopy enhances signal strength, making it easier to study specific chemical bonds and functional groups.

Raman Spectrometer

A Raman spectrometer is an instrument designed to perform Raman spectroscopy. It consists of a light source, often a laser, which illuminates the sample, and a detector that measures the scattered light. The 

Raman spectrometer records the energy shifts in the scattered light which are indicative of molecular vibrations and rotations within the sample. 

instrumentation of raman spectroscopy

By analyzing the Raman shift, we can create a Raman spectrum, a graph that displays the intensity of scattered light at different Raman shift values. Raman spectra serve as unique “fingerprints” of a material, enabling the identification of its components and insights into its chemical and physical properties.

History of Raman Scattering

The historical timeline of Raman scattering traces the evolution of our understanding of light-matter interactions. The 19th century brought forth Rayleigh scattering, shedding light on elastic light-matter exchanges, while Mie scattering emerged in 1908, contributing to this growing knowledge.

In the early 20th century, the concept of inelastic scattering began to take shape, with Adolf Smekal’s 1923 prediction laying its foundation. The pivotal moment arrived in 1922 when physicist C. V. Raman and colleagues ventured into the study of “Molecular Diffraction of Light.” This led to the groundbreaking revelation of the Raman effect in 1928, independently discovered by Landsberg and Mandelstam.

Raman’s pioneering contributions garnered global recognition, earning him the 1930 Nobel Prize for his unparalleled insights into light scattering. Despite debates, the Raman effect gained a lasting legacy, exemplified by its designation as a National Historic Chemical Landmark by the American Chemical Society in 1998.


Raman scattering has diverse applications across various scientific and industrial domains. Some key applications include:

Materials Analysis: Raman scattering helps identify and characterize materials, including polymers, minerals, and pharmaceuticals, by analyzing their unique Raman spectra.

Biomedical Research: It aids in studying biological samples, such as cells and tissues, providing insights into molecular structures, diseases, and drug interactions.

Pharmaceutical Development: Raman scattering assists in drug formulation analysis, ensuring quality control and examining drug delivery mechanisms.

Forensic Science: It aids in identifying illicit substances, analyzing trace evidence, and studying materials in forensic investigations.

Environmental Monitoring: Raman spectroscopy is used to detect pollutants, monitor air quality, and analyze soil and water samples.

Art and Archaeology: Raman scattering helps authenticate artworks, analyze pigments, and study archaeological artifacts non-destructively.

Nanotechnology: It characterizes nanoparticles, nanomaterials, and their interactions, advancing the development of nanotechnology applications.

Chemical Process Analysis: Raman spectroscopy monitors chemical reactions, reaction kinetics, and reaction intermediates in real-time.

Food and Beverage Industry: Raman scattering ensures food quality, authenticity, and safety by detecting contaminants and analyzing compositions.

Semiconductor Analysis: It assists in characterizing semiconductor materials, defects, and interfaces in electronics and optoelectronics.

Geological Exploration: Raman spectroscopy helps analyze minerals, gems, and geological samples for mineralogy and petrology studies.

Quality Control in Manufacturing: Raman scattering verifies product authenticity, examines structural defects, and ensures manufacturing consistency.

The Basic Comparisons

Raman vs. Rayleigh Scattering

The main difference between Raman and Rayleigh scattering is that Raman scattering is inelastic, while Rayleigh scattering is elastic. This means that the scattered light in Raman scattering has a different wavelength than the incident light, while the scattered light in Rayleigh scattering has the same wavelength as the incident light.

Stokes and Anti-stokes Raman Scattering

Stokes Raman scattering occurs when a molecule scatters a photon of light, and the molecule absorbs energy from the photon. The scattered photon has a lower energy and a longer wavelength than the incident photon. 

While Anti-Stokes Raman scattering occurs when a molecule scatters a photon of light, and the molecule emits energy to the photon. The scattered photon has a higher energy and a shorter wavelength than the incident photon.

IR vs. Raman Spectroscopy

IR spectroscopy measures the absorption of infrared light by molecules, while Raman spectroscopy measures the scattering of visible or near-infrared light by molecules.

IR and Raman spectroscopy are complementary techniques, meaning that they can be used together to obtain a more complete picture of the molecular structure of a material. IR spectroscopy is often used to identify the functional groups present in a molecule, while Raman spectroscopy is often used to determine the molecular structure of a molecule.

Coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering

Coherent anti-Stokes Raman scattering (CARS) is a type of Raman spectroscopy that uses three laser beams to generate a coherent signal. The three beams are a pump beam, a Stokes beam, and a probe beam. The pump beam is the most intense beam, and it excites the molecules in the sample. The Stokes beam is a lower-intensity beam that is used to create a coherent signal. The probe beam is a very low-intensity beam that is used to detect the coherent signal.

When the pump beam and the Stokes beam interact with the molecules in the sample, they create a virtual state. This virtual state is a short-lived state that decays by emitting a photon at the anti-Stokes frequency. The anti-Stokes photon is the coherent signal that is detected by the probe beam.

Brillouin scattering and Raman scattering

Brillouin scattering is a phenomenon in which light interacts with acoustic phonons, the vibrational waves present in a material. This interaction leads to a shift in the frequency of the scattered light, providing information about the material’s mechanical properties and sound velocities.

Concepts Berg

What is spontaneous Raman scattering?

Spontaneous Raman scattering is a natural process where light interacts with molecules, causing them to vibrate and emit scattered light with shifted energies. This phenomenon provides valuable information about molecular structures and compositions.

How does Raman scattering work?

Raman scattering occurs when incident light interacts with molecules, leading to energy exchange and molecular vibrations. The scattered light, with energy shifts indicative of molecular characteristics, is collected and analyzed to reveal details about the material.

What is Raman scattering cross section?

Raman scattering cross-section is a measure of the likelihood of Raman scattering occurring when light interacts with molecules. It indicates the scattering efficiency and is influenced by factors such as molecular properties and incident light wavelength.

What is the difference between Raman scattering and fluorescence?

Raman scattering involves light-induced molecular vibrations, emitting scattered light with energy shifts. Fluorescence, however, involves absorption of light followed by emission of lower-energy light. Raman is non-destructive and provides structural information, while fluorescence is often used for detecting specific molecules.

How is Raman scattering intensity enhanced?

Raman scattering intensity can be enhanced through techniques like Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS) or by using resonant conditions where the laser frequency closely matches the molecular transition frequency.

How much weaker is Raman scattering compared to Rayleigh scattering?

Raman scattering is typically much weaker than Rayleigh scattering, with Raman scattering cross sections being orders of magnitude smaller. Rayleigh scattering is a much more dominant process in most cases.

Is Raman scattering coherent?

Yes, Raman scattering is typically a coherent process, meaning the scattered light maintains the phase relationship with the incident light. This coherence enables the analysis of molecular vibrations.

What is the difference between Compton scattering and Raman scattering?

Compton scattering involves X-ray or gamma-ray photons interacting with electrons, causing a change in their energy. Raman scattering involves visible, near-infrared, or ultraviolet photons interacting with molecules, leading to energy exchange and molecular vibrations.

Is Raman scattering directional?

Raman scattering is mostly a non-directional process, as scattered light is emitted in various directions. However, certain experimental setups can focus and collect scattered light from specific angles.

Is Raman scattering polarized?

Yes, Raman scattering can exhibit polarization effects. The scattered light can be polarized, and by studying the polarization of the scattered light, additional information about molecular orientation and symmetry can be obtained.

What is the gross selection rule for Raman scattering?

The gross selection rule for Raman scattering states that the polarizability of a molecule should change during vibration for Raman scattering to occur. This change in polarizability leads to energy exchange and the emission of scattered light.

Why is Raman scattering so weak?

Raman scattering is weak primarily because the probability of energy exchange between light and molecules is low. The Raman scattering cross section is small compared to other scattering processes, such as Rayleigh scattering or fluorescence.