An automated approach enables the rapid exploration of new materials valuable in industry and medicine. (Credit: Matthew Tamasi)

Engineers have developed an automated way to produce polymers, making it much easier to create advanced materials aimed at improving human health. The innovation is a critical step in pushing the limits for researchers who want to explore large libraries of polymers, including plastics and fibers.

While a human researcher may be able to make a few polymers a day, the new automated system — featuring custom software and a liquid-handling robot — can create up to 384 different polymers at once, a huge increase over current methods.

Synthetic polymers are widely used in advanced materials with special properties, and their continued development is crucial to new technologies. Such technologies include diagnostics, medical devices, electronics, sensors, robots, and lighting.

The group developed custom software that allows a liquid handling robot to interpret polymer designs made on a computer and carry out every step of the chemical reaction. One benefit: the new automated system makes it easier for non-experts to create polymers.

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