Chinese scientists have created a robot chemist that can make oxygen using Martian rocks, bringing humans a step closer to colonizing the red planet.
The robot was able to analyze minerals found in Martian meteorites, come up with the chemicals it needed to make oxygen, and carry out experiments “without human intervention,” a study published Monday reported.
Sending supplies, such as oxygen, to Mars is extremely expensive so being able to create it on the red planet could remove a major barrier to establishing future colonies.
“We have developed a robotic AI system that has a chemistry brain,” said study lead Jun Jiang at the University of Science and Technology of China in Hefei, per Nature News.
The robot chemist’s ultimate aim is to find clever ways to make new compounds from on-the-ground resources.
To put it to the test, the machine was tasked with making oxygen from water, and it was told it could only use Martian soil to make this happen.
The robot’s AI analyzed the composition of Martian meteorites using high-powered lasers and studied more than 3.7 million formulas to figure out which combination of elements would work as a catalyst to produce oxygen.
It then tested more than 200 catalysts to find the best ones. The study would have taken a human about 2,000 years to carry out, per a press release.
Once a catalyst was found, the AI carried out experiments on Martian meteorites in the lab using a robotic arm to test whether its theory was correct. Within just two months, it was able to create a chemical catalyst that efficiently turned water into oxygen.
“In the future, humans can establish oxygen factory on Mars with the assistance of AI chemist,” said Jiang.
There are other ways to make oxygen on Mars, which are probably more efficient. NASA’s Perseverance Rover recently demonstrated it was able to make oxygen on Mars from carbon dioxide in the air — a very abundant resource.
But that’s somewhat beside the point. As we aim not only to get to the red planet but also to make it liveable, scientists are looking for ways we could quickly create what we would need from the resources that are already there.
“Different chemicals can be made by this robot,” said Jiang, per Nature News.
“This breakthrough technology brings us one step closer to achieving our dream of living on Mars,” he said in a press release.
The robot could also find applications for humans’ return to the moon, he said.
The study was published in the peer-reviewed journal Nature Synthesis.
Source : Yahoo