The field of photochemistry has long been dominated by precious metals like ruthenium and iridium, which are both rare and expensive. However, recent research by a team of scientists at Johannes Gutenberg University Mainz (JGU) has opened up new possibilities by developing a molecular system based on the Earth-abundant metal manganese. This breakthrough not only offers a more sustainable alternative to traditional photocatalysts but also showcases the unique properties of manganese in photochemistry.

Unlike its precious counterparts, manganese is the third most abundant metal on Earth, making it a cost-effective and widely available option for photocatalysis. The research team led by Professor Katja Heinze has designed a soluble manganese complex that exhibits panchromatic absorption, covering a wide range of visible light and near-infrared wavelengths. This “molecular Braunstein” not only absorbs light effectively but also emits NIR-II light, showcasing its potential for a variety of applications.

One of the most remarkable aspects of the new molecular system is its ability to oxidize challenging organic substrates, including aromatic molecules with high oxidation potentials. Dr. Nathan East, who was instrumental in preparing the complex, observed the exceptional reactivity of the “molecular Braunstein” under LED light excitation. This opens up possibilities for new light-driven reactions that were previously inaccessible with traditional photocatalysts.

By employing ultrafast spectroscopic techniques, the research team was able to unravel the complex excited-state dynamics of the manganese complex. Two distinct photoactive states were identified, each exhibiting different levels of oxidation potential. This dynamic behavior, characterized by both static and dynamic quenching of the excited states, provides valuable insights into the reactivity of the complex towards organic substrates.

Quantum chemical calculations, supported by the computing power of supercomputers, played a crucial role in understanding the photoinduced processes involved in the manganese complex. Dr. Christoph Förster, a key member of the research team, highlighted the importance of these advanced calculations in modeling the excited states and predicting the reactivity of the complex. This multidisciplinary approach combining experimental observations with theoretical calculations has paved the way for future developments in sustainable photochemistry.

Looking ahead, the team envisions a future where manganese-based photocatalysts replace traditional precious metals, offering a more sustainable and cost-effective alternative. With the continued support of advanced laser systems, high-performance supercomputers, and a team of dedicated researchers, Professor Katja Heinze is optimistic about the potential for new light-driven reactions using manganese. This ongoing effort to push the boundaries of photochemistry underscores the importance of harnessing the power of abundant metals for a greener and more efficient future.

Chemistry

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