Introducing Dr. Erik Viirre, New Director of the Clarke Center


We are proud to announce the appointment of Erik Viirre, MD/Ph.D., as the new Director of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination. A longtime member of the Clarke Center community, most recently as Associate Director, Dr. Viirre has joint appointments in UC San Diego's Departments of Neurosciences, Surgery and Cognitive Science, with interests including vision, hearing and the vestibular system and higher cognitive function. Dr. Viirre has done research for the National Institutes of Health, the United States Navy’s Office of Naval Research, DARPA and NASA. He is a consultant for groups such as the National Academy of Science and a variety of virtual reality technology companies, flew the Zero G aircraft with Stephen Hawking, and served as the medical and technical director of the Qualcomm Tricorder XPRIZE competition. He continues to consult on the Tricorder Device Testing Center at UC San Diego, which tests second-generation Star Trek-inspired medical devices and is being overseen by UC San Diego Altman Clinical and Translational Research Institute (ACTRI) and the Qualcomm Institute.


A Message from Dr. Viirre:

In November of 2002, I had the great privilege of meeting Arthur C. Clarke at his home in Sri Lanka. It was an incredible experience and a signal event in my life. We talked about the latest in technology and science, had some laughs (he was not above a ribald joke or two), and marveled on the state of humans in the universe. Clarke had been my chancellor at International Space University, giving the commencement speech to my class in 1988. Most importantly, he was a luminary in my early adult life, stimulating my mind with his visionary stories, essays, movies, mysteries, and inventions.

That inspiEV7ration continues to this day. Millions of others have partaken of his ideas, and generations have grown directly or indirectly under his influence. A scientific innovator (inventing the idea of geostationary satellites, for example), a science fiction pioneer, a role model for those with disabilities (post-polio syndrome led him to require a wheelchair later in life), an early environmentalist, and a queer person coming of age in restrictive early 20th century England yet imagining more inclusive futures—Clarke continues to inspire in countless ways.

Because of this, it is a great privilege for me to become the Director of the Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination at the University of California San Diego and to help build new visions in the spirit of Clarke’s legacy. We will be continuing the work started here in 2012 to better understand humanity’s greatest gift: imagination.

We do this in collaboration with colleagues from a range of fields—from neuroscience to speculative futures studies and from engineering to astrophysics—thought leaders who address the big questions of culture, consciousness, and cosmos, and who prototype tomorrow’s tools of the imagination.

Our programs bring brilliant minds and ideas to life for a broad public—last year alone we hosted mathematician Sir Roger Penrose, physicist Freeman Dyson, and Cixin Liu, the Clarke of contemporary Chinese science fiction, among others. We cultivate conversations about the future, as in our yearlong San Diego 2049 project.

Our Imagination Lab investigates the neurological basis of visual imagination. Our space science collaborations with the Center for Astrophysics and Space Sciences support international development of telescopes that, from the highest elevation plains in Chile, will extend our view further into space, and into the past, than ever before. And our research has extended this year from our labs at UC San Diego to the International Space Station with the BOARDS (Brain Organoid Advanced Research Developed in Space) Mission—sending stem-cell “mini-brains” into micro-gravity for study—with implications for humankind’s ability to live elsewhere in the solar system (and beyond). It’s an exciting time at the Clarke Center, with more to come.

Every great discovery, each great invention, begins with someone imagining a new possibility. As a hub for imaginative, interdisciplinary collaboration, the Clarke Center continues to be the place where, in the spirit of Clarke’s third law, we discover the limits of the possible by venturing a little way past them into the impossible. I invite you to join us on this thrilling journey of discovery, play, and exploration, in the service of imagining a better future for humanity.

Erik Viirre, M.D., Ph.D.
Director, Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination



The Arthur C. Clarke Center for Human Imagination advances understanding of the phenomenon of imagination and its practical applications.

We research, enhance, and enact the gift of human imagination by bringing together the inventive power of science and technology, with the critical analysis of the humanities, and the expressive insight of the arts.

We work to develop more effective ways of using imagination to cultivate public engagement with the big questions of our time, to improve education and learning, and to enhance the application of imagination in meeting humanity’s challenges.


Neuroscience of Imagination

Imagination is how we process sense impressions and make sense of our world, how we produce mental images and recall memories, how we speculate beyond what we can directly perceive with our five senses, and is therefore central to creativity, innovation, and empathy. By advancing the science of imagination, we gain insights that drive innovation and lead to breakthroughs in solving pressing issues facing society.

Space and Cosmos

Unlocking the mysteries of the cosmos empowers us with knowledge to understand our past, improve life on earth, and imagine possibilities for our future. From learning about the origins of the universe to how the human brain develops in space, opportunity for exploration is limitless.

Science Fiction and Speculative Culture

Imagining the future can entertain us, stretch our worldviews, and guide us toward outcomes that benefit all. By studying and fostering speculative culture, including science fiction, futurist worldbuilding and advancements in our understanding of complex systems and change, we can expand our capacity to envision—and even shape—our future.

Art + Science: Tools of the Imagination

Art and science are both catalysts for creativity, leading us to imagine the potential for bold new synergies when the fields collaborate. Exploring cognition in the arts can inform our views about how imagination works, enabling us to blaze new trails in prototyping solutions through STEAM (Science-Technology-Engineering-Arts-Mathematics) collaborations. Creating trainings and tools to enhance imagination for engineers, inventors, and makers accelerates innovation in companies and social enterprise.