New Chemical ‘Printing’ Machine Could Drastically Speed Up Synthesis of an Array of Chemicals

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The process of chemical research is a lengthy one, especially where the creation of complex molecules is involved. This not only means that researchers often have to wait and endure what can be an extremely painstaking process. It is this very problem that a chemist from the University of Illinois aims to address. Martin Burke has created a machine that can automate the chemical research process and speed it up by a significant degree. The machine achieves this by allowing chemists to simply ‘print’ custom-formulated chemicals.

The specifics of this chemical printing machine have been discussed in detail in the Journal of Science published a few days ago. The study reveals that the specifications of the machine have been designed to allow the synthesis of hundreds of different molecules using a variety of starter materials. As further developments in this arena take place, it would soon become possible for chemists and scientists to synthesize chemicals that are similar to the ones found in nature. The next breakthrough that could potentially be achieved with this process is the creation of useful products such as antifungal or antibiotic medicines without extracting the same from nature, but by synthesizing the same artificially by using industrial chemicals that are also safe.

Burke says that nature carries several molecules that have some extraordinary properties which prove useful in a variety of applications. The problem scientists face is that these molecules are exceptionally hard to formulate and need to be custom-built.

But with the process so close to being fully automated, it will not be long before scientists are able to rapidly create molecules that are radically different. The machine does this by identifying the right building blocks for the molecule and then connecting them in the desired pattern. Once it has completed building a foundational block, the machine proceeds to purify it, which effectively means that the machine can begin with basic regents, going on to produce extremely complex chemical formulations across 14 distinct small molecule classes. This covers an array ranging from molecules used in solar cells to ones used in pharmaceuticals.

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