RAMPing up polymer synthesis

Rapidly develop new products and also publish your research outcomes faster and more prolifically, using the
Rapid Automated Materials & Processing centre (RAMP) at CSIRO

First published: 20/05/2014

Updated at: 14/05/2014 at 11:57 am

CSIRO RAMP Plate Reader Flex Station

Whether your KPIs are about producing innovative products or publishing papers, rapid processing can speed up your output.

Ben Muir, Manager of the Rapid Automated Materials & Processing centre (RAMP) at CSIRO says the benefits of using robotic processes to speed up discovery means that you can make and test materials a whole lot quicker.

This allows you to rapidly develop new products and also publish your research outcomes faster and more prolifically.

And Ben should know – he has published 20 academic papers in the last two years on theranostics (integrating diagnostics and therapeutics into one system) and polymer synthesis workflows.

For the last four years, CSIRO has made many discoveries of new advanced materials using the only Chemspeed Robot in Australia, to perform high throughput screening and chemical analysis on many new materials.

This includes metal organic frameworks, catalysts, ionic liquids, polymers and nano-particles for cosmetics, pharmaceutical products, paint coatings or  drug and gene delivery.

CSIRO recently increased its capability in these areas through the acquisition of a second Chemspeed Robot. The RAMP facility is particularly adept at making libraries of various materials for research into

  • New chemical entity discovery (e.g. therapeutic compounds and nanoparticles for use in applications such as cancer treatment and Gene therapy)
  • Reversible Addition Fragmentation chain Transfer technology  (RAFT) and other polymer synthesis techniques
  • Novel formulation for drug delivery applications
  • Mining (high energy release materials)
  • Chemical processing (catalytic processes and thermal treatment)
  • Preparation of metal organic frameworks, inorganics, nanoparticles and ionic liquids
  • Fine chemical manufacturing

Using its robotic automation, hundreds of materials including nano-particles, powders, metal organic frameworks, catalysts, emulsions and polymers have been made for various applications and many of the discoveries have been commercialised.

The Chemspeed SLT II allows you to conduct rapid formulation using various methods including homogenisation, sonication and solid or liquid dispensing at the rate of hundreds of different samples a day, using automated processes.

“This platform technology can help prepare, purify and concentrate any basic chemical operation on a sample material. We have helped researchers cut down the time to make their samples by establishing protocols, followed by testing, repeating and refining the experiments. Set up may take a day or two – after that, it’s up to the robot to process, repeat and modify, ” said Manager of RAMP platform, Ben Muir.

“It can apply pressures up to 90 bar for hydrogenation reactions to saturate compounds with hydrogen for use as catalysts or different drugs.

“The sample materials used in the robots may be solids, solvents including most organics and caustic/acidic solutions and viscous liquids which can be gravimetrically dispensed. The robots can be used to conduct many tasks including heating, cooling and refluxing. The instruments take care of the whole work flow – from sample preparation to screwing caps on disposable reaction vials. The robot arms can take samples to a centrifuge, infra-red vacuum heater (to remove solvent) or shaker within the same platform.

“We use high throughput and automated techniques to characterise the materials we make and we conduct kinetic studies of reactions in the robots using automated sampling. We can use mass spectrometers or nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy capabilities (NMR) at CSIRO or use the powder diffraction beam and small angle scattering beam lines at The Australian Synchrotron to look at the structure of the materials we make.

“The Chemspeed SwingXL can dispense and carry out reactions in a variety of formats including multiwell plates, and disposable reaction vials ranging from 2-100mL.  The robot can transport them into an integrated centrifuge and back again for further actions such as taking samples for  characterisation.

“Liquids and powders are accurately dispensed from amounts as low as a few tens of microlitres and ten milligrams. Kinetic studies can be conducted on hundreds of samples at once following the progress of multiple reactions over different time intervals.

Adjoining RAMP, Shaun Howard and Danielle Kennedy run the CSIRO high-throughput catalysis laboratory, speeding up evaluation of materials using its 48-channel screening rig.

In the first six months of 2013, 300 new synthetic catalytic materials were produced at RAMP and some are now being reviewed for use by CSIRO’s commercial partners.

Using the Avantium Flowrence parallel reactor system, Shaun can place small quantities of candidate materials, such as catalysts, into any of its 48 reactor tubes, apply extremely high temperatures and pressures and collect the gas or liquid products for analysis using online mass spectroscopy and gas chromatography.

“The system offers accurate testing conditions across temperature, pressure, flow and feed gas composition for each reactor set,” Shaun said.

“For example using feed gases such as hydrogen and nitrogen we can accurately test candidate materials for the production of ammonia. The in-line analytics allow us to see performance data on-the-fly as well as capture more thorough analysis for later review.

“Through the use of intelligent experimental design and data management, performance testing can be carried out 24/7. All process variables are recorded into a database, and visualisation tools enable us to look at how the catalysts are performing over time. Rapid automation processing is particularly applicable to the manufacturing, health and technology sectors.

“We’re very interested in being involved in making new materials and IP development leading to new products on the market.

“Any company or academic researcher wishing to quickly develop and test new materials should contact us for the most efficient way of doing it. We’re experts in running these instruments and getting the best out of the experimental design and outputs.

For more information contact Ben.muir@csiro.au Shaun.howard@csiro.au or Danielle.kennedy@csiro.au or go to RAMP


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