A curious formulation robot enables the discovery of a novel protocell behavior

We describe a chemical robotic assistant equipped with a curiosity algorithm (CA) that can efficiently explore the states a complex chemical system can exhibit. The CA-robot is designed to explore formulations in an open-ended way with no explicit optimization target. By applying the CA-robot to the study of self-propelling multicomponent oil-in-water protocell droplets, we are able to observe an order of magnitude more variety in droplet behaviors than possible with a random parameter search and given the same budget. We demonstrate that the CA-robot enabled the observation of a sudden and highly specific response of droplets to slight temperature changes. Six modes of self-propelled droplet motion were identified and classified using a time-temperature phase diagram and probed using a variety of techniques including NMR. This work illustrates how CAs can make better use of a limited experimental budget and significantly increase the rate of unpredictable observations, leading to new discoveries with potential applications in formulation chemistry.


Jonathan Grizou, Laurie J. Points, Abhishek Sharma and Leroy Cronin
Science Advances  31 Jan 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 5, eaay4237
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aay4237

Source: advances.sciencemag.org