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  1. Abstract The transport of protons is critical in a variety of bio- and electro-chemical processes and technologies. The Grotthuss mechanism is considered to be the most efficient proton transport mechanism, generally implying a transfer of protons between ‘chains’ of host molecules via elementary reactions within the hydrogen bonds. Although Grotthuss proposed this concept more than 200 years ago, only indirect experimental evidence of the mechanism has been observed. Here we report the first experimental observation of proton transfer between the molecules in pure and 85% aqueous phosphoric acid. Employing dielectric spectroscopy, quasielastic neutron, and light scattering, and ab initio molecular dynamic simulations we determined that protons move by surprisingly short jumps of only ~0.5–0.7 Å, much smaller than the typical ion jump length in ionic liquids. Our analysis confirms the existence of correlations in these proton jumps. However, these correlations actually reduce the conductivity, in contrast to a desirable enhancement, as is usually assumed by a Grotthuss mechanism. Furthermore, our analysis suggests that the expected Grotthuss-like enhancement of conductivity cannot be realized in bulk liquids where ionic correlations always decrease conductivity. 
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    Free, publicly-accessible full text available December 1, 2024