February 22, 2023
An interdisciplinary team of researchers including Assistant Professor Daniel Szafir (pictured above) was awarded $1.8 million by the National Science Foundation for a project titled, “Human-Robot Collaboration for the Future of Organic Synthesis.”
The project seeks to aid chemists by using robotics to automate time-consuming tasks in a safe and efficient manner. Lab processes are often reliant on repetitive, manual tasks that have not been automated due to high risk of dangerous chemical reactions should a single step be performed incorrectly. The researchers in this project are working on open-source software and robotics hardware that will hopefully allow chemists to spend less time on repetitive, low-level tasks and more time on demanding cognitive tasks. The team hopes that robotic assistants could help transform the field of synthetic chemistry, leading to innovations in biomedicine, material science, and energy.
Szafir’s work on the project will be funded by $600,000 of the award, while the other $1.2 million will support researchers in the ATLAS Institute and Department of Computer Science at the University of Colorado Boulder, where Szafir was a faculty member until 2021. The project is led by Carson Bruns, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering with the ATLAS Institute.
The four-year grant award was provided as part of the NSF’s Future of Work at the Human-Technology Frontier program, which supports research on the interaction of technology and people in the workplace, with a focus on the design of intelligent technologies and work organization that improves the quality of work, ensures worker safety, and enhances societal impact. No more than 25 such proposals are funded in a given year.