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The University of Southampton

Engineering Professor leads project that merges art and microbial power

Published: 15 June 2023
Professor Yannis Ieropoulos
Professor Yannis Ieropoulos

Engineering Professor Yannis Ieropoulos spearheads a remarkable project that merges the domains of art and microbial power. The pioneering endeavor, named ALICE (Active Living Infrastructure: Controlled Environment), fuses scientific ingenuity with artistic expression. Through its unique capability to facilitate digital conversations with microbes, ALICE provides invaluable insights into resource consumption and waste management.

Professor Yannis Ieropoulos leads this project in collaboration with artist and data scientist Dr Julie Freeman from Translating Nature, a UK based company and Professor Rachel Armstrong from KU Leuven. This endeavor signifies Southampton's commitment to pushing boundaries and driving innovation in the field of engineering and art.

Originally developed in collaboration with Dr Jiseon You and Arjuna Mendis (UWE, Bristol), Dr Rolf Hughes (KU Leuven), creative technologist Stephen Wolff and experimental architect Pierangelo Scravaglieri (Newcastle University), ALICE captivates audiences with its web-based interactive animation and soundscape, powered by microbial fuel cells. By feeding microbes with waste, the installation establishes real-time communication with these microorganisms, creating a bridge between humans and the microbial world.

The result is a captivating experience where lively animated characters called "mobes" engage in electrically-enabled inter-species conversations and activities.


"Communicating science in order to initiate discussion with the wider community, is valuable for both our society and science itself. ALICE communicates in a clear and relatable manner, otherwise complex bioelectrochemical processes that help viewers understand how energy can be generated from microbial metabolism. This is the result of years’ worth of work between my esteemed collaborators Rachel, Julie and I, and it is a great honour to be at the ZKM for Renaissance 3.0."

Professor Yannis Ieropoulos, Engineering, FEPS


ALICE's ability to facilitate digital conversations with microbes offers valuable insights into resource consumption and waste management. Moreover, ALICE harnesses microbial power to address energy needs, laying the foundation for sustainable practices in homes and cities. 

The ALICE project has gained notable recognition, including exhibition appearances at prestigious events like the 2021 Digital Design Weekend at the Victoria & Albert Museum in London, UK, and the 2022 Electromagnetic Field event in Eastnor, UK.

Additionally, the ALICE installation at the ZKM in Karlsruhe, as part of the EU H2020 project, has been featured in the 2023 Open Data Institute report.

Supported by funding from the European Union's Horizon 2020 Research and Innovation Programme under Grant Agreement no 851246, the ALICE project epitomises Professor Yannis Ieropoulos' unwavering commitment to merging engineering and artistic expression for a sustainable future.

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