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AI Chemist Synthesizes Catalyst for Oxygen Production from Martian Meteorites

Scientists have developed a robotic artificial intelligence (AI)-chemist that can synthesize and optimize oxygen evolution reaction (OER) catalysts automatically from Martian meteorites. This breakthrough technology could pave the way for humans to establish an oxygen factory on Mars, making the prospect of Mars immigration one step closer to reality.

The AI chemist, developed by a team of researchers at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) of the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS), is a fully automated system that can perform all the necessary steps for OER catalyst synthesis and optimization, from raw material analysis and pretreatment to synthesis, characterization, and performance testing.

The AI chemist first analyzes the elemental composition of the Martian ores using laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS). Then, it carries out a series of pretreatments on the ores before synthesizing the OER catalysts. The synthesized catalysts are then tested for their performance in an electrochemical workstation.

The testing data is sent to the AI chemist's "brain" in real-time for machine learning (ML) processing. The brain employs quantum chemistry and molecular dynamics simulations to calculate the OER catalytic activities of 30,000 high-entropy hydroxides with different elemental ratios. This data is used to train a neural network model for rapidly predicting the catalysts' activities with different elemental compositions.

Finally, through Bayesian optimization, the brain predicts the combination of available Martian ores needed for synthesizing the optimal OER catalyst.

In a recent study published in Nature Synthesis, the researchers demonstrated that the AI chemist could successfully synthesize an excellent OER catalyst using five types of Martian meteorites under unmanned conditions. The catalyst was able to operate steadily for over 550,000 seconds at a current density of 10 mA cm-2 and an overpotential of 445.1 mV. A further test at -37 °C, the temperature on Mars, confirmed that the catalyst could steadily produce oxygen without any apparent degradation.

The researchers believe that the AI chemist could play a vital role in enabling human exploration and colonization of Mars. With the AI chemist's help, humans could establish an oxygen factory on Mars using locally available materials, eliminating the need to transport oxygen from Earth. This would make Mars immigration much more feasible and sustainable.

Journal Information: Jun Jiang, Automated synthesis of oxygen-producing catalysts from Martian meteorites by a robotic AI chemist, Nature Synthesis (2023). DOI: 10.1038/s44160-023-00424-1.
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