Research Article

A universal system for digitization and automatic execution of the chemical synthesis literature

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Science  02 Oct 2020:
Vol. 370, Issue 6512, pp. 101-108
DOI: 10.1126/science.abc2986

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A typical chemist running a known reaction will start by finding the method described in a published paper. Mehr et al. report a software platform that uses natural language processing to translate the organic chemistry literature directly into editable code, which in turn can be compiled to drive automated synthesis of the compound in the laboratory. The synthesis procedure is intended to be universally applicable to robotic systems operating in a batch reaction architecture. The full process is demonstrated for synthesis of an analgesic as well as common oxidizing and fluorinating agents.

Science, this issue p. 101


Robotic systems for chemical synthesis are growing in popularity but can be difficult to run and maintain because of the lack of a standard operating system or capacity for direct access to the literature through natural language processing. Here we show an extendable chemical execution architecture that can be populated by automatically reading the literature, leading to a universal autonomous workflow. The robotic synthesis code can be corrected in natural language without any programming knowledge and, because of the standard, is hardware independent. This chemical code can then be combined with a graph describing the hardware modules and compiled into platform-specific, low-level robotic instructions for execution. We showcase automated syntheses of 12 compounds from the literature, including the analgesic lidocaine, the Dess-Martin periodinane oxidation reagent, and the fluorinating agent AlkylFluor.

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