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How to make oxygen catalyst on Mars from meteorites via AI-powered robot chemist

Nov. 15, 2023.
2 min. read Interactions

This AI-generated process would take a human researcher 2,000 years, says researcher

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Amara Angelica

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Amara Angelica is Senior Editor, Mindplex

Artist’s impression of robotic AI-chemist @USTC making useful oxygen generation catalyst with Martian meteorites (credit: AI-Chemist Group at University of Science and Technology, China)

This AI-generated process would take a human researcher 2,000 years, says scientist

Researchers in China have developed an AI-powered robot chemist that could use materials found on Mars to produce catalysts. These chemicals would break down water, releasing oxygen, which is needed on Mars for burning (heating) and breathing.

The study, published in Nature Synthesis, was led by Jun Jiang at the University of Science and Technology in Hefei, of China.

The workflow

Workflow of an all-encompassing system for the on-site design and production of an OER electrocatalyst on Mars by an AI chemist (credit: AI-Chemist Group at University of Science and Technology of China)
  1. A mobile machine the size of a refrigerator with a robotic arm analyzed five meteorites that had come from Mars or were collected on Earth, mimicking the Martian surface and producing useful catalysts.
  2. The AI-powered system used acid and alkali to dissolve and separate the material, then analysed the resulting compounds.
  3. These then formed the basis of a search of more than 3.7 million formulae for a chemical that could break down water (as ice at Mars’ poles and under the planet’s surface)—a process the team said would have taken a human researcher 2,000 years.
  4. The result: an oxygen-evolution reaction catalyst that could release oxygen from water.

This video showcases the capabilities of the robotic AIchemist in synthesizing and optimizing oxygen-producing catalysts from Martian meteorites. The process involves automated analysis of Martian ore, catalyst synthesis, characterization, intelligent computing, and oxygen evolution reaction performance testing, which highlights the integration of robotics and AI for complex materials design and manufacture under challenging circumstances. (Credit: Qing Zhu et al.)

NASA’s approach

The Mars Oxygen In-Situ Resource Utilization Experiment (MOXIE) on board NASA’s Perseverance rover, which touched down on Mars in February 2021, has already successfully demonstrated the production of oxygen from the Martian air, which is mostly carbon dioxide.

Citation: Zhu, Q., Huang, Y., Zhou, D., Zhao, L., Guo, L., Yang, R., Sun, Z., Luo, M., Zhang, F., Xiao, H., Tang, X., Zhang, X., Song, T., Li, X., Chong, B., Zhou, J., Zhang, Y., Zhang, B., Cao, J., . . . Luo, Y. (2023). Automated synthesis of oxygen-producing catalysts from Martian meteorites by a robotic AI chemist. Nature Synthesis, 1-10. https://doi.org/10.1038/s44160-023-00424-1 (open-access)

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