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Organic synthesis: The robo-chemist

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''In faded photographs from the 1960s, organic-chemistry laboratories look like an alchemist's paradise. Bottles of reagents line the shelves; glassware blooms from racks of wooden pegs; and scientists stoop over the bench as they busily build molecules.

Fast-forward 50 years, and the scene has changed substantially. A lab in 2014 boasts a battery of fume cupboards and analytical instruments — and no one is smoking a pipe. But the essence of what researchers are doing is the same.

But a growing band of chemists is now trying to free the field from its artisanal roots by creating a device with the ability to fabricate any organic molecule automatically. “I would consider it entirely feasible to build a synthesis machine which could make any one of a billion defined small molecules on demand,” declares Richard Whitby, a chemist at the University of Southampton, UK...''

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