June 23, 2024

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AI robot uses meteorite from Mars to help make oxygen from water

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A robot has used meteorite extracts from Mars to help make oxygen from water, melding artificial intelligence’s powers of chemical discovery with efforts to explore and even populate the red planet.

The automated experiment boosts the possibility of sustaining future manned outer space missions, according to the paper published on Monday in Nature Synthesis. The authors estimated that it would have taken 2,000 years of human labour to achieve the same result by trial and error.

The AI robot used the rock samples to make a catalyst — a substance that speeds up chemical reactions — to produce oxygen from water. The work, from a multidisciplinary team at the University of Science and Technology of China in the eastern city of Hefei, taps into rapidly growing interest in colonisation of the cosmos and possible exploitation of extraterrestrial resources. 

“The biggest implication is that an AI-guided robot is able to produce useful chemicals in unknown conditions with unknown materials,” said Prof Jun Jiang, a co-author of the Nature Synthesis paper. “My dream is maybe we can send several robots, to the Moon firstly, and start to use the local resources to prepare the necessary chemicals and materials for human beings.”

“There’s no more important resource than oxygen to breathe,” said Charles Cockell, professor of astrobiology at the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the research. “This is a thrilling example of how we can send robots to Mars and have them extract minerals that catalyse oxygen production from abundant Martian ice, making it possible for us to build a permanent self-sustaining settlement.”

The AI robot used rock samples to make a catalyst — a substance that speeds up chemical reactions — to produce oxygen from water © NASA/Cover Images/Reuters

The researchers tasked their robot with…

2023-11-13 11:22:08

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