The Smart Labs Are Here, and they’re Making Nanomaterials to Order

New Smart Lab, powered by AI and robotics, revolutionises material development, enhancing efficiency by 500 times and ensuring consistent, high-quality research without human intervention

In a smart development, the Korea Institute of Science and Technology (KIST), in collaboration with Korea University, has introduced a cutting-edge Smart Lab platform that leverages artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to bring about fast, low cost and reliable material development.

Historically, the development of new materials has been a daunting task. A prime example is the Haber-Bosch process for synthesising ammonia, which required over 10,000 experiments to find a successful catalyst. Today, the process of developing new materials from design to commercialisation remains costly and time-consuming. However, with the advent of AI and robotic technologies, these challenges are being overcome by enabling continuous, year-round research without human intervention.

Dr. Sang Soo Han and Dr. Donghun Kim from KIST’s Computational Science Research Center, along with Professor Kwan-Young Lee from the Department of Chemical Engineering and Biotechnology at Korea University, have pioneered the Smart Lab platform. This bespoke synthesis platform for nanomaterials automates the synthesis of nanoparticles and the measurement of their optical properties through a robotic arm. This integration of AI allows for the rapid production of nanomaterials tailored to specific requirements, simply by inputting the desired properties.

Conceptualisation of a closed-loop experimentation phase with AI robots.
Credit: Korea Institute of Science and Technology

The AI technology employed in this platform utilises Bayesian optimisation combined with early stopping technology, enhancing the efficiency of material discovery by more than 500 times compared to conventional automated devices. This method produces consistent, high-quality data and mitigates the variability often seen in human-conducted experiments.

Furthermore, the team has prioritized safety within these unmanned labs by developing an AI vision technology named DenseSSD. This system detects potential safety hazards by monitoring various objects and equipment within the lab, ensuring preventative measures are taken before any accidents occur.

The potential of such a platform is clear. Dr. Han emphasised that the Smart Lab represents a new style of R&D. Dr. Kim added that future expansions of the Smart Lab will include interactive language models like ChatGPT to facilitate easier usage by non-experts, broadening the accessibility and applicability of this technology and reducing training costs.

The Smart Lab is set to expand into various material domains, including catalysts, batteries, and displays, indicating a what could be a transformative shift in how material research is conducted globally. It’s clear from developments such as these that Smart Labs are quickly moving from pet-projects to commercial game changes capable of disrupting the current synthesis status quo.

Staff Writer

Our in-house science writing team has prepared this content specifically for Lab Horizons

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