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26/04/2022

Robot lab makes Netherlands a leader in Big Chemistry


 
A research programme aiming to build a revolutionary robot lab that combines chemistry and artificial intelligence (AI) and that will enrich the scientific infrastructure for chemistry in the Netherlands will receive a contribution of 97 million from the National Growth Fund. The “Robotlab: De Revolutie van Zelfdenkende Moleculaire Systemen” (robot lab: the revolution of intelligent molecular systems) programme is led by Wilhelm Huck, professor of Physical-Organic Chemistry at Radboud University (Partner Think East Netherlands). With this grant, the Netherlands can position itself as a global leader in the field of chemical robotics combined with artificial intelligence.

The decision of the advisory committee chaired by Jeroen Dijsselbloem on the second round of the National Growth Fund was adopted by the Council of Ministers today. The research program receives the award on the condition that a number of specific aspects are further elaborated.

The ambition of the research programme is to develop a new ecosystem around a fully automated laboratory (robot lab) in seven years, with a contribution to the gross domestic product of EUR 400 to 750 million. The lab is being developed in cooperation with Fontys University of Applied Sciences Eindhoven; the goal is to establish the robot lab at Novio Tech Campus in Nijmegen.

Robot lab for big chemistry

Central to the research plan is the construction of a robot lab, combining chemical research, high technology (robotics), and artificial intelligence (big data + self-learning systems). This will lead to a lab where all processes are automated and connected to each other. As a result, this kind of lab can do many more and much better controlled experiments than labs in which only some of the processes are automated.
Furthermore, the AI components in the lab allow the development of new chemical products or formulations to be based more on big data and systematic analysis and less on intuition and trial and error. In short: the chemistry practised in this robot lab is faster, better, and more reliable.

Combination of science and industrial R&D

The robot lab that initiator Wilhelm Huck has in mind will in practice be used often by larger and smaller companies who want to develop new products with their research and development departments. For example, the lab can contribute to the development of more sustainable products for the paint, pharmaceutical, and food industries. The explicit intention is that science and practice will learn from each other and raise each other to greater heights.

Fundamental science

While learning, the robot lab also offers space for fundamental scientific research into matters such as the development of self-learning molecular systems, the origin of life, and biomaterials.
One of the challenges to which the robot lab will contribute is the demand for energy-efficient solutions to data storage and processing. If you know that the human genome stores data much more efficiently than any electronic system, and if you know that brains process data much more energy-efficiently than our current computers, then there are huge opportunities for solutions inspired by the architecture of biological systems.

Robotlab general information video

General information video about the Robotlab

Max Planck Research Campus

The research programme also has an ambition to strengthen the scientific infrastructure in the field of chemistry in the Netherlands and abroad. There is a concrete plan for a virtual Max Planck Emergence of Molecular Complexity Research Campus, in which Radboud University, the University of Groningen, TU Eindhoven, research institute AMOLF, and several German Max Planck Institutes collaborate in the field of chemistry. In the long run, this cooperation should ideally lead to the creation of a Max Planck Origins of Complexity Institute in the Netherlands.

Wide-ranging collaboration

The implementation of the programme will be in a foundation that represents the broad collaboration of research institutions, including the Fontys University of Applied Sciences Eindhoven, Eindhoven University of Technology, Radboud University, AMOLF Institute, and Groningen University. From the government side, the Ministry of Education, Culture and Science and NWO (Dutch research council) are directly involved. For the construction of the robot lab, there will be close cooperation with companies located at the Brainport Campus in Eindhoven and the NovioTech Campus in Nijmegen. Internationally, this programme will connect with the Max Planck Gesellschaft in Germany.

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