AI Chemist creates Mars-compatible oxygen catalyst from meteorites
by Simon Mansfield
Sydney, Australia (SPX) Nov 14, 2023
The dream of colonizing Mars has taken a significant leap forward thanks to groundbreaking research led by scientists at the University of Science and Technology of China (USTC) and the Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS). This research, recently published in Nature Synthesis, outlines a novel method for synthesizing oxygen evolution reaction (OER) catalysts using Martian meteorites, driven by an innovative robotic artificial intelligence (AI)-chemist.
In the realms of space exploration and survival, the production of essential chemicals like oxygen on Mars is a crucial challenge. Traditional methods involving the transport of resources from Earth are prohibitively expensive and logistically complex. Addressing this, the team from USTC and CAS, led by Professors LUO Yi, JIANG Jun, and SHANG Weiwei, has pioneered an approach that could feasibly allow for the in situ synthesis of vital catalysts using Martian resources.
The AI chemist at the heart of this project represents a fusion of interdisciplinary technologies. It begins by analyzing Martian ores with laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS) – a technique for elemental analysis. Following this, the AI performs a series of pretreatments and tests to create metal hydroxides, which are then used to prepare working electrodes for OER testing.
This process is significantly enhanced by the AI’s computational abilities, which leverage quantum chemistry and molecular dynamics simulations. By examining over 30,000 high-entropy hydroxides and employing density functional theory, the AI predicts the optimal combination of Martian ores for synthesizing the most effective OER catalyst.
The results of this project are nothing short of remarkable. The AI chemist has successfully created a robust catalyst from five types of Martian meteorites, capable of steady operation for over 550,000 seconds under conditions mimicking those on Mars. This catalyst, tested at a Martian-like temperature of -37 C, showed no apparent degradation while steadily producing oxygen.
The implications of this research extend beyond the immediate goal of oxygen production on Mars. The AI chemist’s rapid optimization of catalysts – a task that would take a human chemist approximately 2000 years – showcases the immense potential of AI in advancing chemical synthesis and discovery. The reviewers of the study have noted its broad interest and the rapid development of this field, particularly in organic and inorganic material synthesis.
Looking ahead, the team envisions the deployment of an AI-driven oxygen factory on Mars. With just 15 hours of solar irradiation, sufficient oxygen concentration for human survival could be produced. As Prof. JIANG Jun stated, “This breakthrough technology brings us one step closer to achieving our dream of living on Mars.”
This research not only epitomizes the innovative spirit of USTC and CAS but also marks a significant stride in the realm of space exploration and AI application in material science. It holds the promise of transforming the way we approach interplanetary colonization, making the once far-fetched idea of living on Mars an increasingly tangible reality.