Acceleration Consortium cements partnership with global technology leader Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany

May 5, 2022 by A&S News

The Acceleration Consortium (AC) at the University of Toronto recently welcomed a visit from its new industry partner, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany. The AC is building a global community dedicated to accelerating the discovery of materials we need for a healthier, more sustainable future through the development of self-driving labs.

By combining artificial intelligence, robotics, and advanced computing, self-driving labs can reduce the time and cost of bringing advanced materials to market, from an average of 20 years and $100 million to as little as one year and $1 million.

“Advancements in how technology is developed through artificial intelligence will transform discovery of new molecules and materials for healthcare, life science and electronics,” said Laura Matz, chief science & technology officer at Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, one of the world’s leading science and technology companies.

“To drive innovation in the field of artificial intelligence for R&D and robotic experimentation, we need joint efforts, and the Acceleration Consortium at the University of Toronto is convening the best and brightest in the field to get this work done. If we are able to develop advanced materials significantly faster in the future, it will be a game changer in providing solutions for human progress,” Matz added.

Workforce development is a critical piece across many sectors, a demand that the AC will help to address directly with the launch of a micro-credentials program in fall 2022. The program will upskill the existing workforce and train the next generation of scientists on the novel skills and tools needed to propel the field of accelerated discovery.

“The materials that will power our society in this century need to be circular economy-friendly, sustainable, inexpensive, and high-performance,” said Alán Aspuru-Guzik, director of the Acceleration Consortium and a professor in the Departments of Chemistry and Computer Science in the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T. “To find these materials as quickly as possible, this work cannot just be done at a single lab, or a single university, and not just in universities or government labs, but together with leading industry partners like Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany.”

The AC is comprised of nearly 100 researchers from U of T and over 40 other universities across the world; 20 partners from industry, government, and the artificial intelligence community; along with a growing network of 30 self-driving labs. As one of its anchor partners, Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany will help to set the AC’s short-, medium- and long-term fundamental and applied research priorities.

The AC is driving the materials and molecular innovation needed to address some of the world’s major challenges, from pandemics and climate change to sustainable electronics technology and clean energy. By bringing together academia, government, and industry partners, the AC is building a community of experts, regulators, innovators, investors and end-users to expedite research translation and commercialization that is critical for a cleaner, richer and healthier world.

“The University of Toronto’s Acceleration Consortium understands the value of bringing partners together across disciplines, sectors, and geographies, an approach that first attracted Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany, a company with a long history of scientific exploration and entrepreneurship,” said Christine Allen, associate vice-president and vice-provost, strategic initiatives at U of T. “Collaboration is critical for innovation, especially when the work has the power to transform materials discovery and in turn, improve our lives and our world for the better.”

Aspuru-Guzik believes that major industrial players, especially across a diversity of sectors, are a key component to scaling this work. Having partners commit to collaborating with each other on pre-competitive research and on an ongoing basis is an important piece of the AC’s mandate.

“We are thrilled to embark on this journey of discovery together and are equally proud to know that Merck KGaA, Darmstadt, Germany views the Acceleration Consortium as a bet worth going all in on from the start,” he said. “We look forward to changing the world, together!”