Autonomous labs are changing the nature of scientific investigation. Instead of humans manually orchestrating every part of an experiment, programmed equipment can carry out necessary functions. This workflow accelerates the pace of discovery by reducing the number of monotonous tasks that researchers must perform.

As these labs are created, software infrastructure that constellates researchers, experimental machines and artificial intelligence frameworks must be developed. To address this need, the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory launched the Interconnected Science Ecosystem Initiative, or INTERSECT, in 2022.

This initiative established six autonomous labs, each targeting high-impact applications — from fundamental discoveries in chemistry and quantum information science to advanced techniques in electron microscopy. Other INTERSECT labs have developed scalable capabilities in applied sciences, such as additive manufacturing, materials production and electric grid optimization.

“Science is moving in the direction of autonomous labs,” said Ben Mintz, co-director of INTERSECT with Robert Moore. “The current problem is that scientists are developing autonomous capabilities within specialized fields, leading to isolated efforts that often overlap. Instead, we need state-of-the-art labs that connect these areas by managing cross-discipline data and multilab workflows.”