A robot chemist, driven by artificial intelligence, has made a breakthrough in synthesizing compounds capable of producing oxygen from water.
As reported by space.com, the discovery is particularly crucial for future manned missions to Mars. Oxygen, essential for astronauts and rocket fuel, could be produced on the Red Planet, eliminating the need to transport oxygen-generating materials from Earth.
The experiment, detailed in Nature Synthesis, was inspired by the discovery of substantial frozen water ice on Mars. The robot chemist created catalysts that facilitate chemical reactions to split water molecules into oxygen and hydrogen gas.
The AI analyzed Martian meteorites – rocks that landed on Earth from Mars. The robot examined these rocks with a laser and calculated over 3.7 million potential molecules from six metallic elements found in them.
Operating autonomously for six weeks, the robot chemist synthesized 243 different molecules. Impressively, the most effective molecule identified can split water at minus 37 degrees Celsius, mirroring Mars’ frigid conditions. Jun Jiang, co-senior author of the study and a scientist at the University of Science and Technology of China, expressed his exhilaration at this achievement, likening it to realizing his childhood dreams of interstellar exploration.
The scientists highlighted the robot’s efficiency, noting that a human scientist would have needed 2,000 years to find the best catalyst using traditional methods.