Surface-enhanced Raman scattering (SERS) spectra of tryptophan (Trp) were obtained. A unique SERS spectrum of Trp, corresponding to the most stable conformation and orientation on the metal surface, is observed after a stabilization period. The Trp molecules interact with the surface through both the carboxylate and amino groups; the aliphatic moiety is close to the surface. The pyrrole ring of the indole moiety is farther from the surface than the benzene fragment. The observed spectra vary depending on both the preparation of the silver colloid and the aggregation time. The interpretation of the experimental results is supported by theoretical treatment of the molecule on the silver surface. Copyright © 2008 John Wiley & Sons, Ltd.