Proton-coupled electron transfer (PCET) from tyrosine and other phenol derivatives in water is an important elementary reaction in chemistry and biology. We examined PCET between a series of phenol derivatives and photogenerated [Ru(bpy)3]3+ in low pH (≤4) water using the laser flash-quench technique. From an analysis of the kinetic data using a Marcus-type free energy relationship, we propose that our model system follows a stepwise electron transfer-proton transfer (ETPT) pathway with a pH independent rate constant at low pH in water. This is in contrast to the concerted or proton-first (PTET) mechanisms that often dominate at higher pH and/or with buffers as primary proton acceptors. The stepwise mechanism remains competitive despite a significant change in the pKa and redox potential of the phenols which leads to a span of rate constants from 1 × 105 to 2 × 109 M-1 s-1. These results support our previous studies which revealed separate mechanistic regions for PCET reactions and also assigned phenol oxidation by [Ru(bpy)3]3+ at low pH to a stepwise PCET mechanism.
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