New project at Cardiff University looks at changing the way we develop experiments to industry scale.
Two scientists at Cardiff University School of Chemistry are developing new technology that could revolutionise the way we test reactions for industrial uses.
Physical organic chemist, Dr Niek Buurma and research fellow, Dr Joseph Beames are looking to use artificial intelligence to optimise reactions by setting them up to not only collect and crunch data, but also communicate with and operate instruments which will be able to alter the parameters and reaction conditions for example, by changing the concentrations of reactants, solvents and changing temperature and pressure. The machines will use laser diodes to analyse the reaction and collect data.
The plan is to use Raspberry Pi computers, these are single-board computers which can be programmed and run scripts. Developed in the UK, Raspberry Pi’s are used universtally from teaching children to high-tech industrial and research purposes and they only cost around £35 each.
This project originates from a side project in the school, which involved DNA. Data from a reaction was analysed and using some genetic algorithms, the team were able to optimise the reaction.
The combination of algorithms will simultaneously analyse the reaction mixture, collect data and communicate with instruments, meaning the data from reaction can be compared in real time and the instruments will change the parameters in a trial-and-error fashion to work out and learn the ideal reaction conditions and preferred solutions. The advantage of this is mainly efficiency, this will take far less time and be far less laborious to researchers. Whilst the machines will be operated by AI to adjust parameters, safety intervals will be programmed in to avoid any dangerous combinations resulting in volatile consequences.
A further advantage of this technology would be the economic and environmental savings, less products and waste would be used since multiple reactions will not be necessary and there will be less instances of human error and repetition.
At this stage, the project is in the school of chemistry, using the combined expertise of reaction mechanisms and kinetics from Dr Buurma and chemical analysis from Dr Beames.
However, it could have useful applications in the field of chemical engineering and the team may look for collaborations in the future.
This could drastically change the way lab reactions are developed from the gram scale to the tonne scale used industrially by chemical plants, a process which is very time consuming and expensive at the moment. Coding is becoming more and more prevalent in education, even in primary schools. As technology advances, the importance for us to keep up and stay in control lies with our ability to code and understand programming.
Dr Buurma expressed his thoughts on artificial intelligence in today’s society, saying that we need to understand artificial intelligence as it becomes a larger part of our lives, if we start learn how to code, we retain control of the technology around us.