Acceleration Consortium using artificial intelligence to discover advanced materials

April 20, 2021 by Arts & Science News

Today, the University of Toronto announces the launch of the Acceleration Consortium (AC), a new global coalition of academia, industry, and government, that will use artificial intelligence (AI) and robotics to accelerate the design and discovery of materials that don’t yet exist. These advanced materials will make technologies more affordable and eco-friendly with applications ranging from renewable energy and consumer electronics to drugs.

A New Paradigm in Materials Discovery

By leveraging the power of AI, robotics, engineering and chemistry, the AC will make U of T a global centre for materials science innovation. Using materials acceleration platforms (MAPs), also known as self-driving laboratories, the AC will rapidly design and discover the materials needed to build a more sustainable, prosperous and healthy future. The AC is led by Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik with support from the Faculty of Arts & Science in partnership with the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering and the Division of the Vice-President, Research and Innovation.

“AI is changing the way we do science,” said Alán Aspuru-Guzik, Director of the Acceleration Consortium, Canada 150 Research Chair in Theoretical Chemistry in the Departments of Chemistry and Computer Science at U of T and Canada CIFAR AI Chair at the Vector Institute. “The Acceleration Consortium’s self-driving laboratories will revolutionize advanced materials innovation by reducing the time and cost to develop new materials from an average of 20 years and $100 million to as little as 1 year and $1 million.”

The AC’s launch coincides with a recent announcement by the Government of Canada to provide $58.9 million in investments to the National Research Council of Canada and Natural Resources Canada to support new laboratory space for advanced materials and the collaborative deployment of MAPs in Mississauga and Hamilton.

A Wide Range of Applications

New advanced materials with superior performance characteristics are required for renewable and clean energy storage, sustainable polymers and packaging for consumer products, biomedical applications, drugs and therapeutics, lighter and stronger building materials, quantum computing, communication technology, eco-friendly transportation, and a host of other applications.

“By creating these new materials, the Acceleration Consortium will help improve the lives of Canadians by addressing challenges in health, climate change, urbanization and economic development,” said Ed Clark, Board Chair, Vector Institute and former President and CEO of TD Bank Group. “The AC’s efforts will also directly support our country’s post-COVID-19 economic recovery by generating commercialization opportunities, onshoring manufacturing, increasing productivity, and even sparking the creation of companies and industries that do not yet exist.”

An Interdisciplinary Approach

“We take pride in a legacy of innovation and discovery that has changed the way we think about the world and respond to society’s most pressing social, economic and environmental questions,” said Melanie Woodin, dean of the Faculty of Arts & Science at U of T. “I am excited to participate in this enterprise that will advance us in new areas of scientific inquiry.”

“With a primary focus on materials design in the areas of energy, the environment, structural and biomedical applications, this cross-disciplinary partnership epitomizes knowledge transfer and collaboration across scholarly expertise at U of T,” said Chris Yip, dean of the Faculty of Applied Science & Engineering.

The Acceleration Consortium, U of T’s latest Institutional Strategic Initiative (ISI), embodies the University’s ability to bring together talented faculty members and students spanning fields and faculties to tackle key world issues.

“Global issues require a global response. U of T is proud to launch the Acceleration Consortium to drive materials innovation through collaboration between experts across the University and around the world, including government, industry and emerging companies, and our academic peers,” said Christine Allen, associate vice-president and vice provost Strategic Initiatives.

An Innovation Ecosystem

The Acceleration Consortium has 3 interconnected objectives: 1) Transform materials discovery: Drive the design of MAPs to accelerate the discovery of new materials and make fundamental breakthroughs in AI, robotics, computational and materials science; 2) Build an ecosystem: Establish a global network of academic institutions, tech companies, and entrepreneurs dedicated to materials innovation; and 3) Train a highly skilled workforce: Create a nationwide training program for the next generation of researchers.

Together, these activities will help foster a robust and agile innovation ecosystem. This will allow AC members to capitalize on shared knowledge, more easily commercialize technological breakthroughs to address real market needs and create a talent pipeline that drives industry, launches start-ups, and attracts venture capital. AC initiatives will include workshops, conferences, hackathons, postdoctoral fellowships, a Master’s program, and a laboratory facility to provide training and access to self-driving laboratories for all AC members.

Current AC partners include: Chemspeed, CIFAR, Creative Destruction Lab, National Research Council of Canada, Natural Resources Canada, SLAS and Vector Institute, among many others. The AC boasts over 50 top researchers from the University of Toronto and across the world.

"CIFAR congratulates Professor Alán Aspuru-Guzik and the University of Toronto for the creation of the AC. The AC will catalyse advanced materials discovery for many applications, from renewable energy to new drugs. As a CIFAR Canada AI Chair and a Fellow in CIFAR's Bio-Inspired Energy program, Alán combines his leading-edge science with CIFAR's global interdisciplinary networks. CIFAR’s partnership with the AC continues our longstanding contributions to the development and application of AI and to elucidating the mechanisms that will drive the green energy revolution," said Dr. Alan Bernstein, president & CEO of CIFAR.

“The launch of the Acceleration Consortium demonstrates what is possible when world-class scientists and practitioners converge and work across disciplines like chemistry and AI. We congratulate our colleagues and look forward to continued collaboration on this exemplary work as we progress towards our mission to use AI to foster economic growth and improve lives,” said Garth Gibson, President & CEO, Vector Institute.

“The Acceleration Consortium is critical for advancing materials research. The adoption of high throughput parallelized experimentation enabled by automation is a key element of this endeavor. Chemspeed is thrilled that our automation solutions are one of the innovative technologies leveraged as part of this collaboration,” said Diana Curran, Head Operations Americas, Chemspeed Technologies, Inc.

Within the ecosystem, the AC is also part of a Global Acceleration Network that includes A3MD, Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) - Materials and Manufacturing Directorate, Centre for Computer Assisted Synthesis, Institute for Digital Molecular Design and Fabrication (DigiFAB), Materials Innovation Factory, Molecular Maker Lab Institute, Open Reaction Database and more. To learn about joining the AC, please visit the Acceleration Consortium website