Researcher in Artificial Life, Non-equilibrium Thermodynamics and Earth Systems Science

Nathaniel Virgo

Nathaniel Virgo

I am an assistant professor at ELSI in Tokyo, Japan. I am the executive director of the ELSI Origins Network project.


This web site is somewhat out of date and will be updated shortly.

Research Interests

My work explores the effect of physical constraints, such as the second law of thermodynamics and a limited energy supply, on complex physical systems such as organisms and ecosystems.

In particular I'm interested in how lifelike properties can arise in non-living systems, and what this can tell us about biology.

This leads me to ask questions such as

  • How do individual entities arise in certain physical systems? What do these phenomena have in common with biological organisms?

  • How can lifelike structures and lifelike behaviour such as learning occur in purely physical systems? What does this purely physical organisation tell us about biological development?

  • What can energetic considerations tell us about the structure of ecosystems and the evolution of complexity?

  • What does this tell us about the origins of life and the evolution of the Earth system?

Additionally, I have strong interests in Bayesian probability theory and the foundations of statistical mechanics.

I'm also an experimental electronic musician. Some of my music is in the form of 140-character pieces of code, which I post (along with audio) on twitter.

Structurally complex entities in a reaction-diffusion system

Structurally complex entities in a reaction-diffusion system (modified Gray-Scott). Each consists of red and blue spots coexisting symbioticaly, mediated by an exchange of nutrients (green)

Self-replicating "molecules" on an air-hockey table. The system is seeded with a "dimer" (two monomers joined together), and this is able to catalyse the formation of another dimer with the same sequence. Both copies then go on to duplicate themselves once more. (see Virgo et al., 2012)