On the role of water in intermolecular proton-transfer reactions
We study the mechanism of proton transfer (PT) between the photoacid (8-hydroxy-1,3,6-pyrenetrisulfonic acid (HPTS)) and the base acetate in aqueous solution using femtosecond vibrational spectroscopy. By probing the vibrational resonances of the photoacid, the accepting base, and the hydrated proton we find that intermolecular PT in this model system involves the transfer of the proton across several water molecules linking the donor-acceptor pair by hydrogen bonds (H-bonds). We find that at high base concentration the rate of PT is not determined by the mutual diffusion of acid and base but rather by the rate of Grotthuss-like conduction of the proton between molecules. This long-range PT requires an activated solvent configuration to facilitate the charge transfer.