Google's AI powerhouse finds millions of new crystals that could change the fate of humanity forever — and, for better or worse, it is just getting started

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Researchers at Google DeepMind have used artificial intelligence to discover new crystals and inorganic materials that could power future technologies as part of a landmark study

Using the Graph Networks for Materials Exploration (GNoME) deep learning tool, researchers found 2.2 million new crystals, including 380,000 stable materials. 

The discovery could represent a landmark moment in the discovery of materials used to power modern technologies, such as computer chips, batteries, and solar panels - all of which rely on inorganic crystals. 

Google AI development

Availability and stability of these materials is a common hurdle in the development of such technologies. However, researchers said that in using the GNoME AI tool, they were able to “dramatically increase the speed and efficiency of discovery by predicting the stability of new materials”. 

“To enable new technologies, crystals must be stable otherwise they can decompose, and behind each new, stable crystal can be months of painstaking experimentation,” the study noted. 

“With GNoME, we’ve multiplied the number of technologically viable materials known to humanity. Of its 2.2 million predictions, 380,000 are the most stable, making them promising candidates for experimental synthesis. 

“Among these candidates are materials that have the potential to develop future transformative technologies ranging from superconductors, powering supercomputers, and next-generation batteries to boost the efficiency of electric vehicles.”

Transformative materials could power the next wave of tech innovation

Google DeepMind’s findings were published in the Nature journal, with the firm noting that, over the last decade, more than 28,000 new materials have been discovered following extensive research. 

However, traditional AI-based approaches to searching for novel crystal structures has typically been an “expensive, trial-and-error process” that could take months to deliver minimal results. 

“AI-guided approaches hit a fundamental limit in their ability to accurately predict materials that could be experimentally viable,” the study said. 

GNoME’s recent discovery of 2.2 million materials would be “equivalent to about 800 years’ worth of knowledge”, researchers said, which highlights the transformative power and accuracy now afforded to scientists operating in the field. 

Around 52,000 new compounds similar to graphene have been discovered as part of the project, which the study said has the potential to revolutionize electronics and superconductor development. 

In previous years, just 1,000 materials of this kind had been identified via previous techniques. 

“We also found 528 potential lithium ion conductors, 25 times more than a previous study, which could be used to improve the performance of rechargeable batteries.”

Long-term, Google DeepMind researchers said the GNoME project aims to “drive down the cost of discovering new materials”. 

So far, external researchers have created 736 of materials discovered through GNoME in a lab environment. The company also plans to release its database of newly discovered crystals and share its findings with the research community. 

“By giving scientists the full catalog of the promising ‘recipes’ for new candidate materials, we hope this helps them to test and potentially make the best ones.”

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News and Analysis Editor, ITPro

Ross Kelly is News & Analysis Editor at ITPro, responsible for leading the brand's news output and in-depth reporting on the latest stories from across the business technology landscape.