A robot chemist powered by artificial intelligence could solve the puzzle of providing oxygen to humans on Mars, according to the results of a new study.

The study, published in Nature Synthesis, found that an AI robot could quickly figure out how to cook up vital oxygen for survival compared to humans, who would take a lifetime to complete such a task.

The reason, according to the paper, is there are more than a million potential oxygen evolution reaction (OER) catalysts on Mars, which would give humans too many possibilities to work with when trying to create oxygen. Adding to the problem would be communication with Earth to solve the problems, with transmissions taking as long as 20 minutes to travel between the home planet and Mars.

An illustration shows the MAVEN spacecraft and the limb of Mars

This illustration shows the MAVEN spacecraft orbiting Mars. (NASA/GSFC)

"Oxygen supply must be the top priority for any human activity on Mars because rocket propellants and life support systems consume substantial amounts of oxygen, which cannot be replenished from the Martian atmosphere," the authors wrote in the paper.

AI robots could be tasked with oxygen supply without the need for help from humans, bypassing potential problems to humans' ability to survive on the planet.

"Here we demonstrate a robotic artificial-intelligence chemist for automated synthesis and intelligent optimization of catalysts for the oxygen evolution reaction from Martian meteorites," the authors wrote. "The entire process, including Martian ore pretreatment, catalyst synthesis, characterization, testing and, most importantly, the search for the optimal catalyst formula, is performed without human intervention."

image from Mars rover

NASA's Mars Perseverance rover acquired this image of the Martian soil on Feb. 6, 2022. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The study envisions that instead of the lifetime a human would consume with a trial-and-error method, AI robots could solve the puzzle within six weeks.

"Within six weeks, the AI chemist built a predictive model by learning from nearly 30,000 theoretical datasets and 243 experimental datasets," the study reads.

According to a report in Universe Today, robot chemistry has made continued advances in recent years. In one 2020 experiment, researchers used a mobile robot to improve hydrogen production from water.

Mars rocks with rippled textures

Billions of years ago, waves on the surface of a shallow lake stirred up sediment at the lake bottom. Over time, the sediment formed into rocks with rippled textures that are the clearest evidence of waves and water that NASA’s Curiosity Mars rover has ever found. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/MSSS)

That same technology could soon find its way to another planet, where the researchers believe will pave the way for human exploration.

"Our study provides a demonstration that an advanced AI chemist can, without human intervention, synthesize OER catalysts on Mars from local ores," the authors of the study concluded. "The established protocol and system, which are generic and adaptive, are expected to advance automated material discovery and synthesis of chemicals for the occupation and exploration of extraterrestrial planets."

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