Electron, optical, and scanning probe microscopy methods are generating ever increasing volume of image data containing information on atomic and mesoscale structures and functionalities. This necessitates the development of the machine learning methods for discovery of physical and chemical phenomena from the data, such as manifestations of symmetry breaking in electron and scanning tunneling microscopy images, variability of the nanoparticles. Variational autoencoders (VAEs) are emerging as a powerful paradigm for the unsupervised data analysis, allowing to disentangle the factors of variability and discover optimal parsimonious representation. Here, we summarize recent developments in VAEs, covering the basic principles and intuition behind the VAEs. The invariant VAEs are introduced as an approach to accommodate scale and translation invariances present in imaging data and separate known factors of variations from the ones to be discovered. We further describe the opportunities enabled by the control over VAE architecture, including conditional, semi-supervised, and joint VAEs. Several case studies of VAE applications for toy models and experimental data sets in Scanning Transmission Electron Microscopy are discussed, emphasizing the deep connection between VAE and basic physical principles. All the codes used here are available at https://github.com/saimani5/VAE-tutorials and this article can be used as an application guide when applying these to own data sets.
The ability of deep learning methods to perform classification and regression tasks relies heavily on their capacity to uncover manifolds in high-dimensional data spaces and project them into low-dimensional representation spaces. In this study, we investigate the structure and character of the manifolds generated by classical variational autoencoder (VAE) approaches and deep kernel learning (DKL). In the former case, the structure of the latent space is determined by the properties of the input data alone, while in the latter, the latent manifold forms as a result of an active learning process that balances the data distribution and target functionalities. We show that DKL with active learning can produce a more compact and smooth latent space which is more conducive to optimization compared to previously reported methods, such as the VAE. We demonstrate this behavior using a simple cards data set and extend it to the optimization of domain-generated trajectories in physical systems. Our findings suggest that latent manifolds constructed through active learning have a more beneficial structure for optimization problems, especially in feature-rich target-poor scenarios that are common in domain sciences, such as materials synthesis, energy storage, and molecular discovery. The jupyter notebooks that encapsulate the complete analysis accompany the article.