School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering

Professor Steven Bell

"In the group we have two main strands of research: spectroscopy, particularly Raman spectroscopy, and nano-/micro-structured materials. These interests converge when we develop new materials for surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS)."
Prof. Steven E.J. Bell
Chair of Physical Chemistry
Office: DKB 0G.124 I Tel: +44 (0)28 9097 4470



While the work is rooted in fundamental science we are also interested in moving the results of our research into the real world. For example, our spin-out company, Avalon Instruments, which manufactured high performance benchtop Raman spectrometers grew to be a multi-million dollar business before being sold to a multinational scientific instrument company in 2006.

We are also involved in the QUB anti-microbial network, QUBAN.

Raman Spectroscopy

We have worked on making Raman spectroscopy a quantitative analytical technique for more than 2 decades, taking advantage of Raman’s unique advantages to study the structure and composition of molecular materials. We have a particular interest in developing techniques suitable for analysing challenging real world samples including in forensic casework, foodstuffs, biological tissue and pharmaceuticals. Even within forensic analysis, samples range from drugs of abuse through inks and dyes to paints, gunshot residue and improvised explosives. Our recent work on novel psychoactive substances (“legal highs”) attracted national and international TV, radio and press coverage.

Louise Jones and Steven Bell posing with Mr David Ford M.L.A., Minister of Justice on his visit to our lab to discuss novel psychoactive substances.

Surface-enhanced Raman Spectroscopy

Our main interest in SERS is in understanding how the interactions between the targets molecules and enhancing surface influence the resultant signal, since this underpins our work on developing methods that allow SERS to be used as a quantitative technique. We have been particularly successful in using SERS to study DNA but our work extends to illicit and therapeutic drugs, bacteria, anthrax spores and even e-liquids for electronic cigarettes. 


The set of E-liquids used to test our method for nicotine analysis using SERS.


Deposited layer of SERS-active Ag nanoparticles.

Nanostructured Materials

We are interested in assembling nanomaterials into larger meso- and macroscopic materials which retain the properties of the nanostructured components. These are typically based on metal nanoparticles of various shapes and sizes and range from materials suitable for cancer theranostics to catalytically active sheets of particles or nanoparticle clusters preserved in swellable polymer film hosts.


Cartoon representation of a surface-exposed nanoparticle sheet (SENS).

Superhydrophobic Materials

The QUB electroless deposition method for preparing SHP materials has now been widely adopted as the most straightforward method for creating superhydrophobic materials whose water repellance is near the theoretical limit. These have been used to explore the fundamental properties of superhydrophobic materials but also can be used to for more practical applications such as increasing flow rates in pipes, improving the efficiency of heat transfer systems, preparing liquid marbles, allowing microplet manipulation etc.


Our artificial pond skater with superhydrophobic copper legs.

Research Group


Group get together Christmas 2016

Recent Publications

Full publication list available on Pure

Swellable polymer films containing Au nanoparticles for point-of-care therapeutic drug monitoring using surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy
Lee, W. W. Y., McCoy, C. P., Donnelly, R. F. & Bell, S. E. J. Analytica Chimica Acta. 912, p. 111-116 (2017).

High dilution surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy for rapid determination of nicotine in e-liquids for electronic cigarettes
Itoh, N. & Bell, S. E. J. Analyst. 142, p. 994-998 (2017).

Rapid One-Pot Preparation of Large Freestanding Nanoparticle Polymer Films
Xu, Y., Konrad, M. P., Trotter, J. L., McCoy, C. P. & Bell, S. E. J. Small. 13, 2, 5 (2016).

Investigation of the chemical origin and evidential value of differences in the SERS spectra of blue gel inks
Ho, Y. C., Lee, W. & Bell, S. Analyst. 141, 17, p. 5152-5158 (2016).

A Method for Promoting Assembly of Metallic and Nonmetallic Nanoparticles into Interfacial Monolayer Films
Xu, Y., Konrad, M. P., Lee, W. W. Y., Ye, Z. & Bell, S. E. J. Nano Letters. 16, 8, p. 5255-5260 (2016).

Raman Analysis of Dilute Aqueous Samples by Localized Evaporation of Submicroliter Droplets on the Tips of Superhydrophobic Copper Wires
Cheung, M., Lee, W. W. Y., McCracken, J. N., Larmour, I. A., Brennan, S. & Bell, S. E. J. Analytical Chemistry. 88, 8, p. 4541-4547 (2016).

Surface-Enhanced Raman Spectroscopy as a Probe of the Surface Chemistry of Nanostructured Materials
Dick, S., Konrad, M. P., Lee, W. W. Y., Mccabe, H., Mccracken, J. N., Rahman, T. M. D., Stewart, A., Xu, Y. & Bell, S. E. J. Advanced Materials. 28, 27, p. 5705-5711 (2016). 

Infrared and Raman screening of seized novel psychoactive substances: A large scale study of >200 samples
Jones, L. E., Stewart, A., Peters, K. L., McNaul, M., Speers, S. J., Fletcher, N. C. & Bell, S. Analyst. 141, p. 902-909 (2016). Hot article. Most accessed articles Analyst 2016.

Analysis of friction factor reduction in turbulent water flow using a superhydrophobic coating
Walker, G. M., Albadarin, A. B., McGlue, A., Brennan, S. & Bell, S. E. J., Progress in Organic Coatings. 90, p. 472-476 (2016).

SERS of meso-droplets supported on superhydrophobic wires allows exquisitely sensitive detection of dipicolinic acid, an anthrax biomarker, considerably below the infective dose
Cheung, M., Lee, W. W. Y., Cowcher, D. P., Goodacre, R. & Bell, S. E. J. Chemical Communications. 52, 64, p. 9925-9928 (2016).

Surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy of novel psychoactive substances using polymer-stabilized Ag nanoparticle aggregates
Lee, W. W. Y., Silverson, V. A. D., Jones, L. E., Ho, Y. C., Fletcher, N. C., McNaul, M., Peters, K. L., Speers, S. J. & Bell, S. E. J. Chemical Communications. 52, p. 493-496 (2016).


Pure Profile