Robot Chemist Offers Insight Into the Origins of Life

A team of chemists from the University of Glasgow developed the robot, which uses a machine-learning algorithm to make decisions about which chemicals from a selection of 18 to combine in a reactor, and how to set conditions under which the reaction occurs. The robot is capable of running the experiments on its own, with minimal human supervision. The process aims to provide new insight into how Earth’s complex organic life developed from its simple, non-living chemical origins by allowing the machine to run experiments over the course of several weeks. Measuring the mass index of the product of each experiment teaches the robot something new about the complexity of molecule produced by each reaction. That information helps it learn how to vary the experiment to create a more complex molecule in subsequent reactions — a digital version, the team hopes, of the natural selection for complexity which gave rise to organic life.

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