For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"A mobile robotic chemist"

by Burger, Benjamin; Maffettone, Phillip M; Gusev, Vladimir V; Aitchison, Catherine M; Bai, Yang; Wang, Xiaoyan; Li, Xiaobo; Alston, Ben M; Li, Buyi; Clowes, Rob; Rankin, Nicola; Harris, Brandon; Sprick, Reiner Sebastian; Cooper, Andrew I (2020)


Technologies such as batteries, biomaterials and heterogeneous catalysts have functions that are defined by mixtures of molecular and mesoscale components. As yet, this multi-length-scale complexity cannot be fully captured by atomistic simulations, and the design of such materials from first principles is still rare1-5. Likewise, experimental complexity scales exponentially with the number of variables, restricting most searches to narrow areas of materials space. Robots can assist in experimental searches6-14 but their widespread adoption in materials research is challenging because of the diversity of sample types, operations, instruments and measurements required. Here we use a mobile robot to search for improved photocatalysts for hydrogen production from water15. The robot operated autonomously over eight days, performing 688 experiments within a ten-variable experimental space, driven by a batched Bayesian search algorithm16-18. This autonomous search identified photocatalyst mixtures that were six times more active than the initial formulations, selecting beneficial components and deselecting negative ones. Our strategy uses a dexterous19,20 free-roaming robot21-24, automating the researcher rather than the instruments. This modular approach could be deployed in conventional laboratories for a range of research problems beyond photocatalysis.


Automation, Robotics, Science, Empirical Research



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