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Communications of the ACM


Automating Organic Synthesis

Automating Organic Synthesis, illustration


The image of a chemist slaving away in a lab, haphazardly pouring steaming test tubes of multi-colored liquid into bubbling beakers amid stacks of leather-bound reference books has long been relegated to old Hollywood films or TV shows. However, while today's organic chemists generally spend as much or more time planning their work in advance, thinking and laying out the sequence of reactions that will be required to make a specific molecule, they still largely mix, filter, and combine substances by hand to try to recreate those planned sequences.

The advent of the modern computer and software packages capable of collecting, categorizing, and recombining vast amounts of chemical proprieties and reaction data may one day help to automate the process of creating molecules. Described as an organic synthesis machine, it would be able to make a huge number of small molecules on demand, speeding the development of new chemical research and of end products across a wide range of industries.


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