Material scientist Liu Miao told NewsChina that he never would have expected to complete more than four research projects during his doctoral program 10 years ago. Today with AI, Liu and his team can screen hundreds of thousands of possible element compounds with the click of a mouse.
In 2018, Liu and his teammates created a material database named Atomly to explore possible chemical compounds.
“With a substantial database and rapid computing abilities, scientists can find their intended chemical compounds and learn their possible physical natures,” Liu said.
For instance, choosing oxygen and titanium in the Atomly database shows 280 possible compounds, including their mechanical properties.
“It’s like fishing with a huge net instead of a single hook,” Liu said.
On March 8, assistant professor Ranga Dias and his team at the University of Rochester in the US announced their discovery of a new room-temperature superconductor made from hydrogen, nitrogen and lutetium, a rare earth element.
The announcement made a huge splash in academia.
However, 13 days later Liu and his team challenged the discovery, arguing in a paper that Atomly failed to formulate any stable structures with the three elements in more than 1,500 possible compounds. “It was unbelievable that we could challenge the discovery so quickly,” Liu said.
AI technology is penetrating almost all sectors of research, from laboratories to university libraries.
An AI created by the University of Liverpool invented a photocatalyst through 688 experiments conducted over eight days, Nature reported in July 2020.
In Shenzhen, XtalPi, a biopharma-ceutical firm established in 2014 by three Chinese chemists who graduated from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, has applied a blend of quantum physics and AI to lab experiments and data analysis for researching molecular drugs or facilitating automatic drug synthesis.
Using Xtalpi’s AI algorithm, Pfizer confirmed its design of the Covid-19 specific medicine Paxlovid was optimal in terms of its crystal structure, an arrangement of ions, atoms and molecules in a solid substance.
Xtalpi shortened the process from several months to six weeks, CN-Healthcare reported on September 22, 2022.
“The AI can calculate with 400 computers, explore thousands of reaction conditions and screen numerous catalysts while running 24 hours a day,” Wen Shuhao, co-founder of Xtalpi, told NewsChina. “It’s simultaneous and large-scale operation is far from the reach of any laboratory technicians.”
AI has not only been employed in scientific research but also in coding and writing. OpenAI’s rollout of ChatGPT boosts efficiency in searching, editing, grouping and summarizing literature across a wide spectrum of disciplines. “It’s like a versatile student of liberal arts particularly good at writing,” Xu Bo, director of the Institute of Automation, the Chinese Academy of Sciences, told NewsChina.
Although ChatGPT cannot read an article as incisively as a well-trained scholar, it is much more efficient than humans in data selection and analysis, Pei Jianfeng, a research fellow at the Center for Quantitative Biology, Peking University, told NewsChina. “China can take advantage of ChatGPT’s strong language processing capability to beef up its knowledge and data systems, both of which have not gotten enough attention over the past few decades,” Pei said.