Beckman Institute for Advanced Science and Technology researchers developed an automated laboratory robot that can run complex electrochemical experiments and analyze data. They created a benchtop robot that performs electrochemistry dubbed the Electrolab. The device reduces the effort and time required for electrochemical studies, automating basic and repetitive laboratory tasks. The Electrolab can be used to explore energy storage materials and chemical reactions for alternative and renewable power sources like solar or wind energy. The work appears in the journal Device.
Chemical reactions release energy that can be converted into electricity, such as in batteries used to power remote controllers or electric vehicles. Electricity can also provide a green and sustainable alternative to many reactions that would otherwise require the use of harsh chemicals and those that convert greenhouse gasses, such as carbon dioxide, into chemicals that are useful in other industries.
The batteries explored use organic molecules to store energy and can be easily altered or tuned by changing the structure of those molecules. Electrolab started as an idea to create a microfabricated design, but the team decided to prioritize accessibility and transferability.
The team created and tested an affordable device that is highly adaptable, made from common parts, and costs about $1,000 to build, making it appropriate for laboratories of all sizes. The team is sharing construction plans for this instrument so that all researchers can benefit from it.
The hardware consists of a standard 3D printer frame transformed into a solution-handling robot; microfabricated electrode arrays, or eChips; and electrochemical hardware. The frame allows the robot to move around within a designated area above electrochemical cells dispensing different liquids. Software was created in Python, allowing the user to connect with Electrolab to perform experiments. The software allows for fully automated data analysis, visual graphics, and plotting. The Electrolab transforms from a robot completing predetermined tasks to a robot that can make decisions about the direction of the experiment while it is happening. Electrolab uses the data it is collecting and analyzing in real time to make the next move.