High valence states in manganese clusters are a key feature of the function of one of the most important catalysts found in nature, the water-oxidizing complex of photosystem II. We describe a detailed electrochemical investigation of two bio-inspired manganese–oxo complexes, [Mn4O4L6] (L = diphenylphosphinate (1) and bis(p-methoxyphenyl)phosphinate (2)), in solution, attached to an electrode surface and suspended within a Nafion film. These complexes contain a cubic [Mn4O4]6+ core stabilized by phosphinate ligands. They have previously been shown to be active and durable photocatalysts for the oxidation of water to dioxygen. A comparison of catalytic photocurrent generated by films deposited by two methods of electrode immobilization reveals that doping of the catalyst in Nafion results in higher photocurrent than was observed for a solid layer of cubane on an electrode surface. In dichloromethane solution, and under conditions of cyclic voltammetry, the one-electron oxidation processes 1/1+ and 2/2+ were found to be reversible and quasi-reversible, respectively. Some decomposition of 1+ and 2+ was detected on the longer timescale of bulk electrolysis. Both compounds also undergo a two-electron, chemically irreversible reduction in dichloromethane, with a mechanism that is dependent on scan rate and influenced by the presence of a proton donor. When immersed in aqueous electrolyte, the reduction process exhibits a limited level of chemical reversibility. These data provide insights into the catalytic operation of these molecules during photo-assisted electrolysis of water and highlight the importance of the strongly electron-donating ligand environment about the manganese ions in the ability of the cubanes to photocatalyze water oxidation at low overpotentials.
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