Groundbreaking robot AI chemist could help make Mars habitable

‘Humans can establish oxygen factory on Mars with assistance of AI chemist’

Vishwam Sankaran
Tuesday 14 November 2023 11:05 GMT

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Scientists have developed a new robotic artificial intelligence (AI) “chemist” that could use materials found on Mars to make the Red Planet more habitable.

Researchers demonstrated that they could use the AI chemist to synthesise a catalyst from Martian meteorites that can help turn water into oxygen.

Previous studies have shown that decomposing water to produce oxygen using solar power and catalysts in a process called oxygen evolution reaction (OER) is one of the best ways to help make Mars more habitable.

Since transporting these catalysts from the Earth would lead to high costs, researchers continue to look for ways to synthesise them using materials found in situ on Mars.

In the latest study, scientists, including those from the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), have shown that the AI chemist can synthesize OER catalyst using Martian material.

The robot chemist first analyzes the chemical composition of Martian ores using a laser-based instrument called Libs.

It then is capable of pretreating the ores, including weighing, preparing solutions, and separating the required catalyst material from liquid, the study noted.

The robot also has a built-in workstation to test the resulting metal compound from which the collected data is sent to the computational AI “brain” for processing.

Researchers say the AI chemist’s processing centre is capable of running high-speed simulations to predict the structure of the metal compound and its catalytic activity.

It is also capable of rapidly predicting the catalyst’s activities in different compositions, scientists say.

The latest study has shown that the AI chemist can create an “excellent catalyst” using five types of Martian meteorites under “unmanned conditions”.

Testing the catalyst at -37 °C (-34.6 °F) – the temperature on Mars – scientists confirmed that it can steadily produce oxygen without degradation.

The robot could complete the finding and optimisation of catalysts to produce oxygen on Mars, a process that scientists say would take 2,000 years for a human chemist.

With just 15 hours of solar irradiation, researchers say the AI chemist can produce sufficient oxygen concentration required for human survival.

“In the future, humans can establish oxygen factory on Mars with the assistance of AI chemist. This breakthrough technology brings us one step closer to achieving our dream of living on Mars,” study co-author Jiang Jun said.

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