robot controlled chemical evolution

Robot Controlled Chemical Evolution

Robot Controlled Chemical Evolution, “It’s life, Jim, but not as we know it.”

Glasgow scientists studying Robot Controlled Chemical Evolution have created a robotic system where chemicals can evolve. I read about this in Gizmag, but followed it up with a quick read from the horses mouth at Nature magazine. The featured image is a picture looking down at the heart of the researcher’s robot.

Researchers Involved

The scientists involved and authors of the article in Nature magazine and the groups they represent are:

  • Juan Manuel Parrilla Gutierrez – WestCHEM, School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow,
  • Trevor Hinkley – WestCHEM, School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow,
  • James Ward Taylor – WestCHEM, School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow,
  • Kliment Yanev – Future Bits OpenTech UG, Cologne 51103, Germany,
  • Leroy Cronin – WestCHEM, School of Chemistry, University of Glasgow.

The Robot Controlled Chemical Evolution System

Oily droplets are made of 225 combinations of the four chemicals:

  • 1-Octanol;
  • Diethyl phthalate;
  • 1-Pentanol;
  • octanoic acid or dodecane.

These are all placed, along with water, in a petri dish in groups called ‘populations’. This is done using a modified 3D printer. The chemicals are chosen for their motility, ability to divide, stability and a range of solubilities, densities and viscosities.

Behaviour of the groups is observed with a video camera. The ‘fittest’ groups are selected by a robot using a video camera according to various criteria. Those criteria are based on the droplet’s reactions within their environment.

Once selection has been made, as to which groups to use for the next stage of evolution, the petri dish is thoroughly cleaned and so are the 3D printer nozzles. Cleaning is all automatic.

The selected populations (new copies of the originals) are put into the cleaned petri dish. The robot then examines the new changes that take place, checks them again and makes a new selection.

A total if 21 iterations are performed automatically.

After 20 iterations the groups begin to mimic natural evolution (apparently).

Much more can be understood from the detail of the robotic process. Read about the detail in Nature magazine.


  1. Center for Chemical Evolution
  2. Gizmag Article.


  1. Chemical Evolution – Wikipedia
  2. Evolution – Wikipedia
  3. Evolution of oil droplets in a chemorobotic platform – Nature magazine.


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