Putting artificial intelligence to work in the lab

Dr Agustin Schiffrin and his team at the Monash School of Physics and Astronomy.
Dr Agustin Schiffrin and his team at the Monash School of Physics and Astronomy.

An Australian-German collaboration has demonstrated fully-autonomous Scanning Probe Microscopy (SPM) operation, applying artificial intelligence and deep learning to remove the need for constant human supervision.

The new system, dubbed DeepSPM, bridges the gap between nanoscience, automation and artificial intelligence (AI), and firmly establishes the use of machine learning for experimental scientific research.

“Optimising SPM data acquisition can be very tedious. This optimisation process is usually performed by the human experimentalist, and is rarely reported,” said FLEET Chief Investigator Dr Agustin Schiffrin from the Monash University School of Physics and Astronomy.

“Our new AI-driven system can operate and acquire optimal SPM data autonomously, for multiple straight days, and without any human supervision.”

The advance brings advanced SPM methodologies such as atomically-precise nanofabrication and high-throughput data acquisition closer to a fully automated turnkey application.

The new deep learning approach can be generalised to other SPM techniques. The researchers have made the entire framework publicly available online as open source, creating an important resource for the nanoscience research community.)

“Crucial to the success of DeepSPM is the use of a self-learning agent, as the correct control inputs are not known beforehand,” said Dr Cornelius Krull, the study project co-leader who is also from the Monash School of Physics and Astronomy.

“Learning from experience, our agent adapts to changing experimental conditions and finds a strategy to maintain the system stable.”

The AI-driven system begins with an algorithmic search of the best sample regions and proceeds with autonomous data acquisition.

It then uses a convolutional neural network to assess the quality of the data. If the quality of the data is not good, DeepSPM uses a deep reinforcement learning agent to improve the condition of the probe.

DeepSPM can run for several days, acquiring and processing data continuously, while managing SPM parameters in response to varying experimental conditions, without any supervision.

The study demonstrates fully autonomous, long-term SPM operation for the first time by combining:

  • an algorithmic approach for sample area selection and SPM data acquisition;
  • supervised machine learning using convolutional neural networks for quality assessment and classification of SPM data, and
  • deep reinforcement learning for dynamic automated in-situ probe management and conditioning.

The Study

Researchers at Monash University’s School of Physics and Astronomy worked closely with collaborators at the Max Planck Institute of Molecular Cell Biology and Genetics (Dresden), Max Delbrück Center for Molecular Medicine (Berlin) and Heidelberg University.

All experiments were performed at Monash, partly funded by the Australian Research Council. Computations were performed at the Center for Information Services and High Performance Computing (European Research Council funded).

For more information about the study contact:

Dr Agustin Schiffrin agustin.schiffrin@monash.edu

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