Accelerating innovation in the chemistry lab with integrated automated microchemical systems

Klavs Jensen

Today's chemistry laboratories operate very much like they did in Thomas Edison's day 100 years ago — with elaborate and time-consuming experiments conducted by hand. The potential for greatly improving the sophistication and productivity of these labs by automating many of their processes represents a ripe market opportunity. This project aims to seize that opportunity by continuing work, funded by a previous Deshpande Center grant, on a prototype of an intelligent microchemical system (IMCS).

The goal is to transform the classical chemical lab, with its batch-wise synthesis and analysis, into a compact system capable of rapid, continuous discovery and development of new products in pharmaceutical, fragrance, advanced materials, and specialty chemicals industries. The IMCS employs integrated, automated microchemical systems that require less space, are easier to vent, use fewer utilities, produce less waste, and are safer than synthesis setups in chemical fume hoods. They also allow high throughput experimentation.

This phase of the project expands the current prototype to systems for gas-liquid chemistry, which plays an important role in synthesis of pharmaceuticals. The systems include a new, quantitative approach to gas-liquid separation that can be integrated into microfluidics systems to enable processes often unfeasible in conventional laboratory settings.

This project was spun out into a startup company, i2Chem Inc.