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Autonomous robots for materials discovery; putting a brain in the mobile robot chemist


Department of Chemistry

About the Project

The PhD position is funded by the Leverhulme Centre for Functional Materials Design at the University of Liverpool via the Leverhulme Trust. The centre aims to bring together chemical knowledge with state-of-the-art computer science and automated technologies to develop a new approach to revolutionize the design of functional materials at the atomic scale.

This is an opportunity to undertake one of our new and exciting cross-disciplinary projects lying at the interface between materials chemistry and computer science. The ideal candidate would have strong problem solving and programming skills gained through a degree in computer science, chemistry, physics, maths or engineering.

Previously, we have used computation to predict new functional materials from first principles that could then be discovered in the lab [1]. More recently, we developed the world’s first autonomous mobile robotic chemist that can carry out independent experiments using artificial intelligence (AI) [2, 3]. We now aim to bring these concepts together: that is, to allow the robot chemist to conduct chemical reasoning, effectively putting a more sophisticated ‘brain’ in the robot. We will also explore ways in which human researchers can work with and interact with these robots. This project lies at the fascinating intersection of AI, computational chemistry, experimental chemistry and robotics, and the ideal candidate will have an interest and enthusiasm for all of these areas.

The successful applicant will work as part of a team of computational chemists, computer scientists, organic materials chemists, and roboticists to achieve the project vision. The project is open-ended and concept-driven, although we have some clear starting points in terms of areas of chemical space that we plan to search. Our success arises from a close working relationship between computational and experimental researchers within the group, which is part of the Leverhulme Centre for Functional Materials Design (https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/leverhulme-research-centre/; Twitter: @LC_Mater_Design), where researchers with physical science, engineering and computer science backgrounds collaborate together closely. The project will mainly be located in our Autonomous Chemistry Laboratory, although there is scope to control and monitor these systems remotely once they are developed [3].

Applications are welcomed from students with a 2:1 or higher master’s degree or equivalent in Chemistry, Physics, Computer Science, or Materials Science, particularly those with skills directly related to this project.

Details of the Cooper Group (Twitter: @AICooperGroup, @aicooper) can be found at: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/cooper-group/

Please apply online at: https://www.liverpool.ac.uk/study/postgraduate-research/how-to-apply/ Please quote reference CCPR019 in the finance section of the online application form. 

For enquires please contact: Dr Ben Alston () or Prof. Andrew Cooper (


Funding Notes

The award is primarily available to UK students and will pay full tuition fees and a maintenance grant for 42 months (£15,609 for 2021/2022). EU and non-EU students are eligible to apply but would need to have their own funding to cover the difference between the UK and international tuition fees. Please refer to our Fees and Funding webpage View Website. EU students starting before 1st October 2021 may be eligible for the reduced UK fee rate.

References

[1] A. Pulido et al., Functional materials discovery using energy–structure–function maps, Nature, 2017, 543, 657
[2] B. Burger et al., A mobile robotic chemist, Nature, 2020, 583, 237.
[3] For a video, see BBC News feature: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WBwZp5Bg2L8

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