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Robot biologist solves complex problem from scratch

First it was chess. Then it was Jeopardy.

Now computers are at it again, but this time they are trying to automate the scientific process itself.

An interdisciplinary team of scientists at Vanderbilt University, Cornell University, and CFD Research Corporation Inc., has taken a major step toward this goal by demonstrating that a computer can analyze raw experimental data from a biological system and derive the basic mathematical equations that describe the way the system operates. According to the researchers, it is one of the most complex scientific modeling problems that a computer has solved completely from scratch.

The paper that describes this accomplishment is published in the journal Physical Biology and is currently available online. The work was a collaboration between John P. Wikswo, the Gordon A. Cain University Professor at Vanderbilt, Michael Schmidt and Hod Lipson at the Creative Machines Lab at Cornell University and Jerry Jenkins and Ravishankar Vallabhajosyula at CFDRC in Huntsville, Ala.

The “brains” of the system, which Wikswo has christened the Automated Biology Explorer (ABE), is a unique piece of software called Eureqa developed at Cornell and released in 2009. Schmidt and Lipson originally created Eureqa to design robots without going through the normal trial and error stage that is both slow and expensive. After it succeeded, they realized it could also be applied to solving science problems.
 
 

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