Democratizing synthesis by automation

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Science  11 Jan 2019:
Vol. 363, Issue 6423, pp. 122-123
DOI: 10.1126/science.aav8816

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There is something particularly satisfying in watching an automaton as it impeccably performs its task, be it an Archimedean screw pump or a machine for making cookie cutters. In this vein, the videos accompanying the article on page 144 by Steiner et al. (1), depicting their self-driven synthetic chemistry setup—in effect, an automated chemical assembly line—are mesmerizing. The authors constructed a broad-purpose chemical synthesis system comprising interconnected modules coupled with a standardized computer code and architecture. Put in simpler terms, they built a fully equipped fume hood that functions without the need of a human operator. Validating their approach, the synthesizer autonomously prepared three pharmaceutical compounds—diphenhydramine hydrochloride, rufinamide, and sildenafil—according to tailored computer codes provided by the authors.