Steven Lopez is looking for a molecule that can create a new material to take carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere. The task poses many challenges, but foremost among them is: Where to begin?
“Imagine all the grains of sand on earth and under the oceans. Now multiply that by a million. That’s how many possible molecules there are,” says Lopez, assistant professor of chemistry and chemical biology at Northeastern. Put another way, there are about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 potential molecular combinations to choose from, far more than any one computer can analyze.
“Right now, we can have about one billion molecules in the database,” he continues. “That’s enough to at least scratch the surface.”
Lopez will conduct this research as one of four principal investigators in the newly launched Institute for Data-Driven Dynamical Design. The goal of the institute, which is funded by the National Science Foundation, is to use machine learning to sift through information and discover new sustainable materials.
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