The “Chemputer”

Image Courtesy of Lee Cronin

Image Courtesy of Lee Cronin

Jennah Hamze, News Editor

The United States Government purchased almost all of the world’s Remdesivir supply, an FDA approved antiviral treatment for COVID-19. The procedure for producing this drug has been and accessible by anyone using Github, an online software network. Lee Cronin of The University of Glasgow created the coding for Remdesivir. Cronin hopes for a “standard way of discovering molecules, making molecules and then manufacturing them…like an ebook reader for chemistry”.

The instrument used was created last year and has the ability to produce multiple molecules, but it does not stop there. Recent advancements in this technology now allow for easier ways for scientists to use the program. The program will contain an online data base of codes for scientists to download and use while working with important molecules. This will make sharing and accessing academic articles much easier than searching for paper versions.

The system developed by Cronin and his team, the “chemputer”, has functions such as reading English words. In Chemistry, there are many pieces of peer reviewed literature such as discussions about experiments, new discoveries in science and information or “recipes” for experiments. The instrument created by Cronin will have the ability to “read” these pieces of literature and pick out important words such as “stir” and “heat”. The system can take this electronic input and physically implement it, such as stirring the chemical in use, and programming multiple physical pieces of equipment. This software was utilized while creating the instructions for Remdemisvir.

The benefit to this system is that scientists do not have to learn to code to work with this new instrument. It functions and is programmed in the English language and requires little training. Research was done on the system and the results were close to the work of human chemists. The next step in this research is to create a program to discover new molecules. It may seem as if computers are replacing humans, but the program manager, Anne Fischer, stresses that “it’s about giving chemists the tools to allow them to implement and apply the chemistry and allow them to be creative high-level thinkers”. This program creates a common and standard way for sharing. Instead of having to write down mechanisms and instructions, chemists will have the ability to hit a share button to send a report to colleagues.

This advancement is a huge step for the Chemistry world. Chemistry is a very meticulous and hands on science, but with technological advancements like the “chemputer”, scientists can work more efficiently with peer reviewed articles virtually, instead of flipping through pages of paper. The program will take the instructions quite literally and must still be monitored closely while functioning. The developers of this instrument have high hopes for it to assist scientists in the discovery of new molecules, that could advance discovery in medication, and the exploration of space.