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  1. Abstract

    Closed-loop, autonomous experimentation enables accelerated and material-efficient exploration of large reaction spaces without the need for user intervention. However, autonomous exploration of advanced materials with complex, multi-step processes and data sparse environments remains a challenge. In this work, we present AlphaFlow, a self-driven fluidic lab capable of autonomous discovery of complex multi-step chemistries. AlphaFlow uses reinforcement learning integrated with a modular microdroplet reactor capable of performing reaction steps with variable sequence, phase separation, washing, and continuous in-situ spectral monitoring. To demonstrate the power of reinforcement learning toward high dimensionality multi-step chemistries, we use AlphaFlow to discover and optimize synthetic routes for shell-growth of core-shell semiconductor nanoparticles, inspired by colloidal atomic layer deposition (cALD). Without prior knowledge of conventional cALD parameters, AlphaFlow successfully identified and optimized a novel multi-step reaction route, with up to 40 parameters, that outperformed conventional sequences. Through this work, we demonstrate the capabilities of closed-loop, reinforcement learning-guided systems in exploring and solving challenges in multi-step nanoparticle syntheses, while relying solely on in-house generated data from a miniaturized microfluidic platform. Further application of AlphaFlow in multi-step chemistries beyond cALD can lead to accelerated fundamental knowledge generation as well as synthetic route discoveries and optimization.

     
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  2. Abstract

    In recent years, microfluidic technologies have emerged as a powerful approach for the advanced synthesis and rapid optimization of various solution‐processed nanomaterials, including semiconductor quantum dots and nanoplatelets, and metal plasmonic and reticular framework nanoparticles. These fluidic systems offer access to previously unattainable measurements and synthesis conditions at unparalleled efficiencies and sampling rates. Despite these advantages, microfluidic systems have yet to be extensively adopted by the colloidal nanomaterial community. To help bridge the gap, this progress report details the basic principles of microfluidic reactor design and performance, as well as the current state of online diagnostics and autonomous robotic experimentation strategies, toward the size, shape, and composition‐controlled synthesis of various colloidal nanomaterials. By discussing the application of fluidic platforms in recent high‐priority colloidal nanomaterial studies and their potential for integration with rapidly emerging artificial intelligence‐based decision‐making strategies, this report seeks to encourage interdisciplinary collaborations between microfluidic reactor engineers and colloidal nanomaterial chemists. Full convergence of these two research efforts offers significantly expedited and enhanced nanomaterial discovery, optimization, and manufacturing.

     
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  3. Abstract

    The optimal synthesis of advanced nanomaterials with numerous reaction parameters, stages, and routes, poses one of the most complex challenges of modern colloidal science, and current strategies often fail to meet the demands of these combinatorially large systems. In response, an Artificial Chemist is presented: the integration of machine‐learning‐based experiment selection and high‐efficiency autonomous flow chemistry. With the self‐driving Artificial Chemist, made‐to‐measure inorganic perovskite quantum dots (QDs) in flow are autonomously synthesized, and their quantum yield and composition polydispersity at target bandgaps, spanning 1.9 to 2.9 eV, are simultaneously tuned. Utilizing the Artificial Chemist, eleven precision‐tailored QD synthesis compositions are obtained without any prior knowledge, within 30 h, using less than 210 mL of total starting QD solutions, and without user selection of experiments. Using the knowledge generated from these studies, the Artificial Chemist is pre‐trained to use a new batch of precursors and further accelerate the synthetic path discovery of QD compositions, by at least twofold. The knowledge‐transfer strategy further enhances the optoelectronic properties of the in‐flow synthesized QDs (within the same resources as the no‐prior‐knowledge experiments) and mitigates the issues of batch‐to‐batch precursor variability, resulting in QDs averaging within 1 meV from their target peak emission energy.

     
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  4. Microfluidic devices and systems have entered many areas of chemical engineering, and the rate of their adoption is only increasing. As we approach and adapt to the critical global challenges we face in the near future, it is important to consider the capabilities of flow chemistry and its applications in next-generation technologies for sustainability, energy production, and tailor-made specialty chemicals. We present the introduction of microfluidics into the fundamental unit operations of chemical engineering. We discuss the traits and advantages of microfluidic approaches to different reactive systems, both well-established and emerging, with a focus on the integration of modular microfluidic devices into high-efficiency experimental platforms for accelerated process optimization and intensified continuous manufacturing. Finally, we discuss the current state and new horizons in self-driven experimentation in flow chemistry for both intelligent exploration through the chemical universe and distributed manufacturing. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Chemical and Biomolecular Engineering, Volume 13 is October 2022. Please see http://www.annualreviews.org/page/journal/pubdates for revised estimates. 
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  5. A quaternary segmented flow regime for robust and flexible continuous biphasic chemical processes is introduced and characterized for stability and dynamic properties through over 1500 automatically conducted experiments. The flow format is then used for the continuous flow ligand exchange of cadmium selenide quantum dots under high intensity ultraviolet illumination for improved photoluminescence quantum yield. 
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  6. null (Ed.)
    Autonomous robotic experimentation strategies are rapidly rising in use because, without the need for user intervention, they can efficiently and precisely converge onto optimal intrinsic and extrinsic synthesis conditions for a wide range of emerging materials. However, as the material syntheses become more complex, the meta-decisions of artificial intelligence (AI)-guided decision-making algorithms used in autonomous platforms become more important. In this work, a surrogate model is developed using data from over 1000 in-house conducted syntheses of metal halide perovskite quantum dots in a self-driven modular microfluidic material synthesizer. The model is designed to represent the global failure rate, unfeasible regions of the synthesis space, synthesis ground truth, and sampling noise of a real robotic material synthesis system with multiple output parameters (peak emission, emission linewidth, and quantum yield). With this model, over 150 AI-guided decision-making strategies within a single-period horizon reinforcement learning framework are automatically explored across more than 600 000 simulated experiments – the equivalent of 7.5 years of continuous robotic operation and 400 L of reagents – to identify the most effective methods for accelerated materials development with multiple objectives. Specifically, the structure and meta-decisions of an ensemble neural network-based material development strategy are investigated, which offers a favorable technique for intelligently and efficiently navigating a complex material synthesis space with multiple targets. The developed ensemble neural network-based decision-making algorithm enables more efficient material formulation optimization in a no prior information environment than well-established algorithms. 
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  7. Although a vital parameter in many colloidal nanomaterial syntheses, precursor mixing rates are typically inconsistent in batch processes and difficult to separate from reaction time in continuous flow systems. Here, we present a flow chemistry platform that decouples early-stage precursor mixing rates from reaction time (residence time) using solely off-the-shelf, commercially available, and standard dimension components. We then utilize the developed flow chemistry platform towards time- and material-efficient studies of the mass transfer-controlled synthesis of cesium lead bromide perovskite quantum dots. 
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