Issue 47, 2021

Automation isn't automatic


Automation has become an increasingly popular tool for synthetic chemists over the past decade. Recent advances in robotics and computer science have led to the emergence of automated systems that execute common laboratory procedures including parallel synthesis, reaction discovery, reaction optimization, time course studies, and crystallization development. While such systems offer many potential benefits, their implementation is rarely automatic due to the highly specialized nature of synthetic procedures. Each reaction category requires careful execution of a particular sequence of steps, the specifics of which change with different conditions and chemical systems. Careful assessment of these critical procedural requirements and identification of the tools suitable for effective experimental execution are key to developing effective automation workflows. Even then, it is often difficult to get all the components of an automated system integrated and operational. Data flows and specialized equipment present yet another level of challenge. Unfortunately, the pain points and process of implementing automated systems are often not shared or remain buried deep in the SI. This perspective provides an overview of the current state of automation of synthetic chemistry at the benchtop scale with a particular emphasis on core considerations and the ensuing challenges of deploying a system. Importantly, we aim to reframe automation as decidedly not automatic but rather an iterative process that involves a series of careful decisions (both human and computational) and constant adjustment.

Graphical abstract: Automation isn't automatic

Article information

Article type
19 Aug 2021
26 Oct 2021
First published
27 Oct 2021
This article is Open Access

All publication charges for this article have been paid for by the Royal Society of Chemistry
Creative Commons BY-NC license

Chem. Sci., 2021,12, 15473-15490

Automation isn't automatic

M. Christensen, L. P. E. Yunker, P. Shiri, T. Zepel, P. L. Prieto, S. Grunert, F. Bork and J. E. Hein, Chem. Sci., 2021, 12, 15473 DOI: 10.1039/D1SC04588A

This article is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 Unported Licence. You can use material from this article in other publications, without requesting further permission from the RSC, provided that the correct acknowledgement is given and it is not used for commercial purposes.

To request permission to reproduce material from this article in a commercial publication, please go to the Copyright Clearance Center request page.

If you are an author contributing to an RSC publication, you do not need to request permission provided correct acknowledgement is given.

If you are the author of this article, you do not need to request permission to reproduce figures and diagrams provided correct acknowledgement is given. If you want to reproduce the whole article in a third-party commercial publication (excluding your thesis/dissertation for which permission is not required) please go to the Copyright Clearance Center request page.

Read more about how to correctly acknowledge RSC content.

Social activity