Active Living Infrastructure: Controlled Environment (ALICE)


A “living” installation that communicates with microbes in real time, ALICE reveals the invisible realm of microbes around us and provides shared inter-species experiences and activities. Drawing together microbial metabolism, data, bioprocessor systems, artificial intelligence, low power electronics and digital displays, ALICE is a communications system that connects humans and microbes.

Comprised of three basic components: sensors, microbial fuel cells (organic batteries powered by microbes) and interactive displays, ALICE transforms liquid wastes into real-time electronic experiences, which may one day wean us off ‘dead’ fossil fuel based systems, by instead engaging the incredible processing powers of ‘living’ microbial technologies in our homes and cities. To do this responsibly, we must design meaningful interfaces that enable us to relate to our “microbiomes”, site-specific microbial communities.

ALICE steps into this space. Using biosensors that directly record the data, or “happiness index” of microbes through their excreted electrons, which are transformed into electricity, augmented reality experiences are activated from a custom designed tower, over two metres tall, which draws inspiration from observational watch towers, organic mass and 19th century architectural forms. The tower contains 15 ‘living bricks’ organised into five parallel streams of three, visible through window-like fissures, which are fed with organic matter. Collected data is transformed into animations via screen-based systems that enable audiences to directly experience the transfer of electrons between organic and electronic systems.

Conferred with an inner ‘life’ and a maintenance process that resembles nurturing a pet, these fundamental units of technology become ‘living’ and have potential to transform and evolve human habitats, through applications like wastewater treatment, powering robots and developing off-grid power supplies for use in poor, rural communities.


Newcastle University

  • Rachel Armstrong (Professor of Experimental Architecture)
  • Dr Rolf Hughes (Director of Artistic Research/Experimental Architecture Group)
  • Pierangelo Scravaglieri (PhD candidate in Experimental Architecture)

University of the West of England

  • Ioannis Ieropoulos (Professor of Bioenergy and Self-Sustainable Systems and Director of the Bristol BioEnergy Centre, at the Bristol Robotics Laboratory)
  • Dr Jiseon You (Research Fellow)
  • Arjuna Mendis (Senior Research Technician)

Translating Nature

  • Dr Julie Freeman (Artist)
  • Stephen Wolff (Creative Technologist)

The project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no 851246

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