Remembering The Starlab

Starlab NV/SA was a privately funded, Blue Sky research institute in Brussels, Belgium initially funded by venture capitalist and entrepreneur Walter de Brouwer (CEO) in 1998. The management team included Walter Van de Velde as the chief scientific officer who is now involved with coordination of European Union projects such as the Presence 2 initiative. Together with Paul Allen’s Interval and MIT. Starlab wanted to go where no-one had ever gone before. At the time of the bankruptcy (June 12, 2001), there worked about 100 people, from which 70 scientists and engineers. The range of research areas was very broad: intelligent clothing, stemcell research, emotics, transarchitecture, robotics, theoretical physics (e.g., the possibilities of time-travel), quantum consciousness, quantum computation, art, artificial brain building, new media, biophysics, materials science, protein folding and nano-electronics, to mention a few. These centers were grouped under the acronym BANGBits, Atoms, Neurons, Genes – a theme adopted by the MIT Media Lab in 2002. Also see the Seminar list. Blue Sky Research, Multi-disciplinarity, Deep Future, "Revenge of the Nerds", Creating Wealth, Serendipity and "In this place 100 years means nothing" were some of the mottos.


Clients of Starlab included: France Telecom, Adidas, Siemens, Philips, Energizer, Samsonite and Nokia. Starlab is now being revived as an urban legend on the net, was the subject of a theatre play at the Edinburgh Festival, became a Gartner case study, a forum on Yahoo and a Discovery Channel documentary. Philips bought the intellectual property of the lab (i-wear), which won the Avantex 2000 Innovation Prize. The biotech spin-off, Bioprocessors is doing well in Silicon Valley and the IPTV license is still bringing in money for an anonymous buyer. One of Starlab’s ideas will launch in 50 countries in 2007: Pajamanation

Starlab was a sponsor of Merton College at Oxford University and the Center for Quantum Computation in the early days and of the MIT Medialab’s Digital Life Consortium. Starlab’s Physics department survived the bubble with the support of the Catalan and Spanish Governments in Barcelona. It is located in the historic Fabra Observatory on top of the mountains. While maintaining the interdisciplinary spirit of Starlab Brussels, focuses on space R&D and biophysics applications.

Starlab's research mandates included Deep Future and " – a place where one hundred years means nothing." Its open and cross-disciplinary nature was an innovative effort to foster creativity among scientific researchers, intended as an original, if ambitious, dream to create a utopian scientific environment. The lab employed a professional chef which changed Starlab by bringing people together during lunchtime. The lab also had a few hotel rooms in the basements for visiting scientists and people who wished to work late and not to worry about the commute back to their living arrangements. Some of the cult lab’s memes have already passed into nerd mythology: “Deep Future”, “Theory is Power”, “The Revenge of the Nerds”and “We promise not to make anything that works”.

Stalab Pubblications

Research Staff Members

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In this lab 100 years means nothing, but 100 qubits could mean everything

If the vision is there, the means will follow

Everyone seems to be driving in the fast lane now. Academia and industry are getting increasingly short-sighted in both evaluation and investment. Even organizations with long-term goals (such as scientific knowledge, or profound social change) attempt to characterize their progress by short-term bottom lines such as published citations or employment statistics. Though this is understandable, the short-term markers move to the heart of these organizations and will eventually destroy them. We need the long-term vision and the theory that springs from it. What good is playing chess if you do not have a board ? What is the value of astronomy without the framework of the heliocentric universe ? What good is chemistry without Mendeleev periodic table ? There seems to be a poignant need and a big opportunity for a laboratory with long horizons. When we started to use "in this place one hundred years means nothing" as a signature in our email messages, Seth Lloyd suggested we should change this to "but one hundred qubits could mean everything". So we did.