A Look at the Crew Inside Biosphere II


With a few exceptions, the crew of Biosphere II has been together for more than 10 years working on various ecological projects around the world. Many read science fiction extensively, and several play musical instruments.

The biospherian co-captains are Sally Silverstone of Walthamstow, England, and Mark van Thillo of Antwerp, Belgium. Silverstone, 36, has a bachelor’s degree in applied social studies from Sheffield Polytechnic College. She has worked in drought relief and agricultural systems in Bihar, India, and managed a London hostel for mentally handicapped adults. She has been in charge of Biosphere II’s financial administration and cost control, and will be in charge of day-to-day activities.

Van Thillo, 30, has a diploma in mechanics and tool and die-making from the Don Bosco Technical Institute in Belgium. He has worked as a petroleum refinery production assistant and as ship’s engineer and mechanic on R/V Heraclitus, a research vessel funded by Edward P. Bass, who funded the biosphere project. Thillo will be in charge of technical systems in Biosphere II. He plans to take as much of his music library into Biosphere II as he can.


Abigail Alling, 31, of New York, has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Middlebury College and a master’s degree from Yale University’s School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. She has researched whales, dolphins and porpoises in Canada, Sri Lanka and Nepal. She coordinated the design, species selection and collections for Biosphere II’s ocean and marshes.

Linda Leigh, 39, a Wisconsin native, holds a bachelor’s degree in botany and field ecology from Evergreen State College in Washington state and did graduate work at the University of Arizona. She was a botanist on a National Science Foundation project to replant native grasses in Midwestern prairies. Leigh was responsible for coordinating planning of the biosphere’s land sections and was in charge of collecting, storing, propagating and transferring more than 2,000 plant species. She will be taking in some of the woodwinds that she plays and perhaps the soprano sax she has been meaning to learn.

Taber McCallum, 27, born in Albuquerque, N.M., has worked on R/V Heraclitus and will be responsible for coordinating and operating Biosphere II’s water, air, soil and tissue analysis laboratory. He will take in his cello, synthesizer and conga drums.

Mark Nelson, 44, of New York is a graduate of Dartmouth College who majored in philosophy and minored in agronomy. He is chairman and chief executive officer of the Institute for Eco-Technics, the London think tank responsible for Biosphere II. He will be responsible for the animal fodder systems, coordinating reports and relaying data with mission control outside the biosphere.

Jane Poynter, 29, of Surrey, England, has a background in ecological management. She participated in marine coral reef collections for Biosphere II, and in the project’s insect program development, and will manage the intensive agriculture systems. She plays flute and balalaika and has been a science fiction buff since reading Isaac Asimov and Arthur C. Clarke at age 7.

Dr. Roy Walford, 67, the only physician, is a San Diego native who is a gerontologist at UCLA. He has spent much of his research career investigating the possibility that caloric restriction can lengthen life span. He has served as biomedical consultant to the project and will be responsible for maintaining the biospherians’ health.