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

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

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.


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.