A robot arm dips a pipette into a dish and transfers a tiny amount of bright liquid into one of many receptacles sitting in front of another machine. When all the samples are ready, the second machine tests their optical properties, and the results are fed to a computer that controls the arm. Software analyzes the results of these experiments, formulates a few hypotheses, and then starts the process over again. Humans are barely required.

The setup, developed by a startup called Kebotix, hints at how machine learning and robotic automation may be poised to revolutionize materials science in coming years. The company believes it may find new compounds that could, among other things, absorb pollution, combat drug-resistant fungal infections, and serve as more efficient optoelectronic components.

This sounds like a perfect application for machine learning. It’s a great combination of smart design and brute force effort.