Modular Homogeneous Chromophore-Catalyst AssembliesReview
Photosynthetic reaction center (RC) proteins convert incident solar energy to chemical energy through a network of molecular cofactors which have been evolutionarily tuned to couple efficient light-harvesting, directional electron transfer, and long-lived charge separation with secondary reaction sequences. These molecular cofactors are embedded within a complex protein environment which precisely positions each cofactor in optimal geometries along efficient electron transfer pathways with localized protein environments facilitating sequential and accumulative charge transfer. By contrast, it is difficult to approach a similar level of structural complexity in synthetic architectures for solar energy conversion. However, by using appropriate self-assembly strategies, we anticipate that molecular modules, which are independently synthesized and optimized for either light-harvesting or redox catalysis, can be organized into spatial arrangements that functionally mimic natural photosynthesis. In this Account, we describe a modular approach to new structural designs for artificial photosynthesis which is largely inspired by photosynthetic RC proteins. We focus on recent work from our lab which uses molecular modules for light-harvesting or proton reduction catalysis in different coordination geometries and different platforms, spanning from discrete supramolecular assemblies to molecule–nanoparticle hybrids to protein-based biohybrids. Molecular modules are particularly amenable to high-resolution characterization of the ground and excited state of each module using a variety of physical techniques; such spectroscopic interrogation helps our understanding of primary artificial photosynthetic mechanisms. In particular, we discuss the use of transient optical spectroscopy, EPR, and X-ray scattering techniques to elucidate dynamic structural behavior and light-induced kinetics and the impact on photocatalytic mechanism. Two different coordination geometries of supramolecular photocatalyst based on the [Ru(bpy)3]2+ (bpy = 2,2′-bipyridine) light-harvesting module with cobaloxime-based catalyst module are compared, with progress in stabilizing photoinduced charge separation identified. These same modules embedded in the small electron transfer protein ferredoxin exhibit much longer charge-separation, enabled by stepwise electron transfer through the native [2Fe-2S] cofactor. We anticipate that the use of interchangeable, molecular modules which can interact in different coordination geometries or within entirely different structural platforms will provide important fundamental insights into the effect of environment on parameters such as electron transfer and charge separation, and ultimately drive more efficient designs for artificial photosynthesis.