Artificial intelligence (AI) is rapidly gaining momentum as people explore how it might make their lives easier by saving time, reducing errors and improving outcomes. One emerging possibility is to use the technology to handle chemistry experiments.
Although running experiments to learn new things in the lab is an important part of helping chemists make progress, they can be time-consuming and require lots of physical resources and space. Could AI improve the options by showing chemistry professionals which experiments are most likely to succeed and how to optimize them?
AI to Boost Productivity
“People have already identified numerous ways to use artificial intelligence to help workers be more productive in various roles.”
That doesn’t necessarily mean automating whole tasks. Some employees use AI as a support tool, helping them do their jobs more efficiently than before. Technology can reduce workloads, boost morale and make people feel happier about their work.
Artificial intelligence excels at processing large amounts of data much faster than humans can. Some chemists have found it works well at helping them innovate in minutes or days rather than months. That can shorten development timelines for drugs and other highly anticipated products, getting them on the market sooner and to the customers who need them.
AI to Spur New Ideas
AI can also support chemistry experiments by helping people push the boundaries of what was previously possible. For example, a University of Washington team used it to design proteins that accelerate chemical reactions. This unlocks opportunities in industries ranging from medicine to manufacturing, particularly because it allows people to use proteins not found in nature but customized to meet specific needs.
Some decision-makers at academic institutions also view AI as necessary for future chemists to learn. For example, Ireland’s Dublin City University has a degree program that combines chemistry and AI. It allows people to learn artificial intelligence after grasping the fundamental information needed for a chemistry career.
AI to Maintain Safety
Whether a person performs chemistry experiments traditionally or allows AI to do some of the work, they must always done the appropriate personal protective equipment (PPE). There are five main categories of PPE. However, the specific types someone uses will vary depending on their task and the substances used for the experiment.
AI can also be used to a wider degree regarding PPE. Other industries — such as health care — have used AI to detect whether people are wearing PPE properly. That approach can make chemistry labs safer, especially when occupied by interns, visitors or others who need to wear PPE but aren’t accustomed to regularly wearing it.
AI to Assist With Preliminary Research and Basic Tasks
“Much of the work involved in successful chemistry experiments occurs before people go into labs.”
For example, they research public information about chemical compounds, review user manuals for specialized equipment and even write code instructing computers to perform parts of the process.
Researchers recently unveiled an AI chemistry tool called Coscientist. It could assist with many essential tasks, reducing chemists’ workloads. For example, one of the most straightforward duties handled by Coscientist was to control a robotic liquid-handling machine. The aim was to work with a plate containing 96 wells, adding liquid in specific patterns. Once the Coscientist was fully trained and tested, it could successfully identify chemical reactions despite never previously attempting it.
AI to Supplement Human Expertise
Using AI to run chemistry experiments is an option still in the early stages. However, even as people become increasingly impressed by what it can do, they should still view the technology as something that can support — but not replace — their knowledge.
People should never blindly trust AI’s results without first closely scrutinizing them. Artificial intelligence is advancing quickly, but it can still make mistakes. Those errors are less likely to happen when experts verify the outcomes. That’s a great way to minimize some of the ethical concerns of using this emerging technology.
An Exciting Area of Progress
Possibilities for using AI to conduct chemistry experiments have come a long way in a relatively short period. People have a lot to look forward to in the coming years as chemists and others continue experimenting to see what the technology does well and where it falls short compared to existing methods.