Exploration of new and effective routes to conduct organic reactions in water using the special properties of water/organics is of great importance. In this work, we performed the disproportionation of various aromatic alcohols in water and in different organic solvents. It was demonstrated that the disproportionation reactions of the alcohols were accelerated more effectively in water than organic-solvent-based or solvent-free reactions. A series of control experiments were conducted to study the mechanism of the accelerated reaction rate in water. It was shown that the reactants could emulsify the reactant/water systems at the reaction conditions owing to their amphiphilic nature. The regularly orientated reactant molecules at the water/reactant droplet interface improved the contact probability of the reactive groups and the Pd nanocatalysts, which is one of the main reasons for the enhanced reaction rate in water. Controlling the self-emulsification of amphiphilic reactant/water systems has great application potential for optimizing the rate and/or selectivity of many organic reactions.
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