It is common for overlapping spectral lines to occur in Raman spectra. To the extent that analytical bands can provide physical or chemical meaning relevant to the material being studied, it becomes necessary to follow these spectral lines separately as sample parameters change. Anyone who has band-fitted spectra knows that the results are fraught with pitfalls. The most common one is to add a spectral component in order to improve the overall fit. The problem with this approach is that there may not be physical or chemical meaning to this extra component. Another problem is that the fits typically are not unique. That is, the final fit may depend on the starting parameters and how well the algorithm converges. In this installment, we will use real spectra to illustrate how one can be his or her own critic in performing this valuable operation.
Analytical Raman spectra provide bonding information for chemical species. As such it can be sensitive to anything that changes the chemical bonding — for example, solvation, pH, temperature, applied stress, and crystallinity. Because the spectra are sensitive to such chemical or physical changes, the spectra can be used to infer how the sample of interest is affected by these environmental parameters. However, when the spectra are complex, there are overlapping bands that make the identification of cause and effect difficult. In principle, band-fitting enables separation of the multiple components, which aids in this task.
The complexity of a vibrational spectrum is determined by the number of degrees of freedom, which, in turn, is directly related to the number of moving atoms. Larger molecules have more degrees of freedom, and therefore more vibrational bands. In a certain sense, polymers offer one of the most challenging systems for band-fitting. The molecules are "infinitely" long, they can orient in particular directions, there can be many conformations — especially around single bonds — and the polymer can be (partially) crystalline. In fact, all of this variability is used to engineer-in particular physical and chemical properties. So vibrational spectra, especially Raman spectra, can be an asset in engineering a material or determining failure mode (especially mechanical failure).