Deploying safer robot chemists in real laboratory environments


Robotic chemists [1] are a totally new and disruptive development in human-centric labs, and these systems are already beginning to carry out complex experiments that require skills beyond sample transportation (e.g., sample weighing [2] and scraping samples from vials [3]. This raises several interesting questions regarding safety in a mixed robot/human lab environment. We will address this here by developing novel methods for adding safety and environmental constraints within learned robotic skills, thus allowing robots to operate more efficiently in complex and variable multiuser human lab space. Specifically, the student will:

  • Develop novel new methods for safer robotic chemists
  • Deploy and validate the system in real-world materials discovery experiments (specifically, high-throughput crystallisation)
  • Contribute to the ongoing research efforts at the UoL related to AI-driven robotic scientists
  • Collaborate with external partners in our collaborative network of ongoing multidisciplinary projects (e.g., University of Toronto).

The global need for researchers with capabilities in materials chemistry, digital intelligence and automation is intensifying because of the growing challenge posed by Net Zero and the need for high-performance materials across multiple sectors. The disruptive nature of recent advances in artificial intelligence (AI), robotics, and emerging quantum computing offers timely and exciting opportunities for PhD graduates with these skills to make a transformative impact on both R&D and society more broadly.

The University of Liverpool is therefore offering multiple studentships for students from backgrounds spanning the physical and computer sciences to start in October 2024. These students will develop core expertise in robotic, digital, chemical and physical thinking, which they will apply in their domain-specific research in materials design, discovery and processing. By working with each other and benefiting from a tailored training programme they will become both leaders and fully participating team players, aware of the best practices in inclusive and diverse R&D environments.

This training is based on our decade-long development of shared language and student supervision between the physical, engineering and computer sciences, and takes place in the Materials Innovation Factory (MIF), the largest industry-academia colocation in UK physical science. The training content has been co-developed with 35 industrial partners and is designed to generate flexible, employable, enterprising researchers who can communicate across domains. Applicants are advised to apply as soon as possible with applications considered when received and no later than 30/06/2024.

[1] Nature 2020; DOI: 10.1039/D3SC06206F
[2] Digital Discovery, 2023, 2, 1733-1744

We want all of our staff and students to feel that Liverpool is an inclusive and welcoming environment that actively celebrates and encourages diversity. We are committed to working with students to make all reasonable project adaptations including supporting those with caring responsibilities, disabilities, or other personal circumstances. For example, If you have a disability you may be entitled to a Disabled Students Allowance on top of your studentship to help cover the costs of any additional support that a person studying for a doctorate might need as a result.


Funding information

Funded studentship

The EPSRC funded Studentship will cover full tuition fees of £4,786 per year and pay a maintenance grant for 4 years, starting at the UKRI minimum of £19,237 pa. for 2024-2025. The Studentship also comes with access to additional funding in the form of a research training support grant which is available to fund conference attendance, fieldwork, internships etc.

EPSRC Studentships are available to any prospective student wishing to apply including international students. Up to 30% of our cohort can comprise of international students and they will not be charged the fee difference between UK and international rate.