Special Articles

Electron Transfer: Classical Approaches and New Frontiers

Science  20 Mar 1998:
Vol. 279, Issue 5358, pp. 1891-1895
DOI: 10.1126/science.279.5358.1891

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Abstract

Electron transfer, under conditions of weak interaction and a medium acting as a passive thermal bath, is very well understood. When electron transfer is accompanied by transient chemical bonding, such as in interfacial coordination electrochemical mechanisms, strong interaction and molecular selectivity are involved. These mechanisms, which take advantage of “passive self-organization,” cannot yet be properly described theoretically, but they show substantial experimental promise for energy conversion and catalysis. The biggest challenge for the future, however, may be dynamic, self-organized electron transfer. As with other energy fluxes, a suitable positive feedback mechanism, through an active molecular environment, can lead to a (transient) decrease of entropy equivalent to an increase of molecular electronic order for the activated complex. A resulting substantial increase in the rate of electron transfer and the possibility of cooperative transfer of several electrons (without intermediates) can be deduced from phenomenological theory. The need to extend our present knowledge may be derived from the observation that chemical syntheses and fuel utilization in industry typically require high temperatures (where catalysis is less relevant), whereas corresponding processes in biological systems are catalyzed at environmental conditions. This article therefore focuses on interfacial or membrane-bound electron transfer and investigates an aspect that nature has developed to a high degree of perfection: self-organization.

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