The Cronin Group

Research in the Cronin Group is motivated by the fascination for complex chemical systems, and the desire to construct complex functional molecular architectures that are not based on biologically derived building blocks.

Protocells with Unpredictable Complexity Tamed by Artificial Intelligence

In new Cronin Group research published in the journal PNAS, a robot equipped with artificial intelligence was able to build unstable oil-in-water droplets as models for new artificial life forms. It was also able to predict their properties ahead of time even though conventional physical methods failed to do so.

The project is part of a set of experiments to explore the formation of artificial life forms that are based upon new building blocks not found in nature, as well as the development of programmable formulations that could have applications in areas as diverse as drug delivery or new functional materials.

The droplet-robot uses machine learning and evolution and was designed by Prof Cronin and his team to autonomously create a range of oil-in-water droplets and evaluate their behaviour using image recognition. By varying the range of different chemicals making up the oil and water formulations, the droplets could be engineered to have different desirable properties. Once the new properties were discovered they could then be manufactured again, on demand, using a digital code.

Professor Cronin said: “This work is exciting as it shows that we are able to use machine learning and a novel robotic platform to understand the system in ways that cannot be done using conventional laboratory methods, including the discovery of ‘swarm’ like group behaviour of the droplets, akin to flocking birds. Achieving lifelike behaviours such as this are important in our mission to make new lifeforms, and these droplets may be considered ‘protocells’ – simplified models of living cells.”

University of Glasgow press release

Link to Publication

Prof. Leroy (Lee) Cronin

Prof Leroy (Lee) Cronin
Regius Chair of Chemistry
Cronin Laboratory
School of Chemistry
Joseph Black Building
University of Glasgow
Glasgow G12 8QQ
Tel: +44 141 330 6650

Latest Publications


452. [Fe15]: a frustrated, centred tetrakis hexahedron


451. Robotic Stepwise Synthesis of Hetero-Multinuclear Metal Oxo Clusters as Single-Molecule Magnets


450. Standardization and Control of Grignard Reactions in a Universal Chemical Synthesis Machine using online NMR


449. A robotic prebiotic chemist probes long term reactions of complexifying mixtures


448. Identifying molecules as biosignatures with assembly theory and mass spectrometry


447. A molecular computing approach to solving optimization problems via programmable microdroplet arrays


446. Influence of the Contact Geometry and Counterions on the Current Flow and Charge Transfer in Polyoxometalate Molecular Junctions: A Density Functional Theory Study


445. Elucidating the Paramagnetic Interactions of an Inorganic-Organic Hybrid Radical-Functionalized Mn-Anderson Cluster


444. Automatic Generation of 3D-Printed Reactionware for Chemical Synthesis Digitization using ChemSCAD


443. Optimization of Formulations Using Robotic Experiments Driven by Machine Learning DoE

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