2013 Starship Congress Keynote Speaker Announcement – Dr. Rachel Armstrong: “Project Persephone”

posted by John Moltzan on May 24, 2013

Architectural designer and multi disciplinary researcher Rachel Armstrong has been announced as a keynote speaker for Icarus Interstellar’s 2013 Starship Congress, with a talk titled Project Persephone.

Dr. Rachel Armstrong is the Co-Director of AVATAR (Advanced Virtual and Technological Architectural Research) in Architecture & Synthetic Biology at The School of Architecture & Construction, University of Greenwich, London, a 2010 Senior TED Fellow, and Visiting Research Assistant at the Center for Fundamental Living Technology, Department of Physics and Chemistry, University of Southern Denmark.

Rachel graduated from Cambridge University with First Class Honours, completed her clinical training at the John Radcliffe Medical School at the University of Oxford in 1991, and in 2009 embarked on a PhD in chemistry and architecture at University College London. Rachel is a sustainability innovator who investigates a new approach to building materials called ‘living architecture,’ that suggests it is possible for our buildings to share some of the properties of living systems. She collaboratively works across disciplines to build and develop prototypes that embody her approach. Rachel was a member of the RESCUE “Collaboration between the natural, social and human sciences in global change research” Working Group, an interdisciplinary body of European experts making recommendations to the EU for strategic investment for interdisciplinary/scientific research of climate change. She was also part of the TARPOL report “Targeting environmental pollution with engineered microbial systems á la carte” for the European Commission, which will be published by Wiley this year. In 2011 Rachel was named as one of the top ten UK innovators by Director Magazine, featured in the top ten ‘big ideas, 10 original thinkers’ for BBC Focus Magazine and selected as one of BMW/Wired’s Change Accelerators. She also released a TED Book on Living Architecture in 2012, which has been a #1 Bestseller in Biotechnology on Amazon, and is available on Kindle, Nook and iBook.

Rachel Armstrong


Abstract for Project Persephone:

Project Persephone is charged with the design and implementation of a giant natural computer that will form the ‘living’ interior to the Icarus Interstellar worldship, which constitutes a kind of ‘space’ Nature. Yet, her ideas are not just ‘black sky’ thinking but also address the way that we currently live and produces real world models and prototypes to address significant challenges such as, resource shortages within our megacities, which share Persephone’s challenges in surviving effectively ‘closed’ systems.

Rather than presupposing what the needs of an interstellar civilization may be within this system, which will experience its own physical and chemical rhythms, Persephone is approaching the idea of a living space within a worldship by taking a bottom-up approach to its construction. Yet, she is not by starting with bricks and mortar, but with designing, developing and producing soils that are essential for any truly ‘sustainable’ environment. Indeed, all civilizations are founded on soils, as they are the technology that spontaneously recycles materials and creates fertile conditions in which life may thrive. By understanding the basic physical and chemical interactions that may spontaneously form systems that shape the flow of matter through the worldship, it may be possible to create events within them such as, growth and decomposition, around which human activity can thrive. As these systems develop it may be possible to construct architectures and even cities that thrive around these spontaneous events.

Project Persephone also aims to address an even a deeper issue, which relates to the way we imagine reality. In 1948 Erwin Schrodinger noted that the characteristic of life is that it resists the decay towards entropic equilibrium. This observation is profoundly important when thinking about the design of an environment for living things, as it requires us to consider far-from equilibrium conditions in the fabrication of soils. Persephone is also imagined as an ‘open’ system to resist entropic decay. Perhaps she may ‘feed’ on space ‘junk’, asteroids and even the electromagnetic spectrum, so that the living system that supports her interstellar crew does not grind to an energetic halt. Yet how do we begin to resolve these challenges – to keep her system open – or even design and engineer with material flows and networks of metabolic interactions? Working with open, non-equilibrium systems flies in the face of all our design efforts to history, because when we design, we assume that our design substrates are closed and their surroundings are at equilibrium, so we can make a world of composed of objects. However, such assumptions are not suitable for a living interior, as Schrodinger noted, an equilibrium state is not compatible with life.

Persephone’s international community – a network of world-leading architects, designers, engineers, sociologists, creative and scientists – is exploring how to navigate these challenges through the inpossible.me community, which builds tools and methods to deal with a constantly evolving reality.

Persephone does not expect these challenges to be solved by any one particular team, or indeed any particular generation and is looking to work with all the Icarus Interstellar group’s project leaders and extend her network to multiple collaborators, across many disciplines and age groups as an open network of volunteers, makers and visionaries.

Persephone is looking forward to participating in Icarus Interstellar’s international community, which is coming together for the first time in person, to talk about such issues at the Starship Congress, which will be the start of many challenging conversations that will ultimately result in taking the first real steps towards becoming an interstellar civilization.

Be Sociable, Share!

5 Responses to 2013 Starship Congress Keynote Speaker Announcement – Dr. Rachel Armstrong: “Project Persephone”

  1. As Schrodinger says, life resists entropy. Here’s the geometric basis of how as defined by the Constructal law’s behaviours.
    More 4 Less. A new optimal design & construction paradigm and effective Complexity ToE.
    Asynsis Principle-Constructal law Team @ ARUP Foresight & Innovation, London Friday May 3, 2013
    http://wp.me/p1zCSP-2V via https://twitter.com/ASYNSIS

  2. “Perhaps [Persephone] may ‘feed’ on space ‘junk’, asteroids and even the electromagnetic spectrum, so that the living system that supports her interstellar crew does not grind to an energetic halt.”

    Starlight and cosmic rays as inputs to a starship (which is presumably traveling at some unprecedented velocity) Feeding on asteroids en route? I’m having trouble making sense of this, in physics terms.

    • Andreas Tziolas says:

      Hi Michael,

      Actually it makes perfect sense in terms of the physics of complex systems. There is no such thing as a perfectly closed environmental system and there will always be losses. Even more so if we were to consider a habitable spacecraft built for long duration flight.

      What the author is saying here is that instead of attempting the impossible by designing for a 100% closed loop life-support system, why not PLAN TO REPLENISH the spacecraft and its possibly dwindling resources via asteroids identified on route. There are already suspicions that the Oort cloud extends far out and throughout interstellar space, sewn with rocky/icy objects and very likely ejected planets. There may even be a home away from home somewhere out there which may serve as a waystation – who knows.

      And a worldship would not be capable of travelling at high relativistic velocities, so slowing down – or sending resupply ships ahead becomes an option again. Quite brilliant.

      By the way I noticed you work on Cubesats – very nice work! Perhaps you would be interested in Project Tin-Tin? What a coincidence about the name eh (Persephone)? There are 10 other “Project Icarus” out there so its not surprising there’s some overlap on the naming cool projects after the greek pantheon!

      Good luck on your endeavors.

      • I wasn’t proposing “high relativistic velocities” when I wrote “unprecedented velocities.” I mean going fast enough to get to another star in, oh, let’s say, 1000 years or less? That’s still a lot faster than the New Horizons probe at its peak velocity, and basically precludes scooping up anything you might pass along the way, except perhaps for a Bussard ramjet or something like that.

        “I noticed you work on Cubesats – very nice work!”

        No, actually, I don’t. I work on Sprites which can be launched from cubesats.

        “its not surprising there’s some overlap on the naming cool projects after the greek pantheon!”

        But it would be surprising, considering that I’ve been passing around links to my website since 2009, that a project starting years later, for “living architectures” on a spacecraft, would have the same name by sheer coincidence.

  3. Pingback: Dreaming of an architecture that could produce buildings with organs and physiologies | 2D LIBRARY2D LIBRARY

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *