Expensive, large-scale projects are familiar in physics, astronomy, space exploration and, more recently, genetics. Now chemistry may join the ranks of big science. Martin Burke of the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, has proposed a $1 billion, 20 year-long project to extend an automated synthesis machine such that it can synthesise most of the hundreds of thousands of known organic small molecules made by plants, animals and microbes – many of which are of medical interest. The odds of funding for such a project at present are not clear, but it is certainly a bold new idea.