Science Museum - Trento (Italy)
In 1953, biochemists Stanley Miller and Harold Urey built a device designed to study the origins of life, similar to the one on display.
Some gases, such as methane and ammonia, mix with water vapor.
Electrical charges similar to the lightning bolts of the primordial atmosphere cross through the mixture.
The chemical reactions produce organic molecules, as amino acids, the essential bricks of proteins
Bizarre forms of life
Dating back to about 570 million years ago, Ediacara biota contains the earliest known large-sized organisms in the history of life.
These bizarre forms are completely extinct and don't have documentable relations with any of the organisms that evolved later on.
Their anatomy is enigmatic: they don't seem to have internal organs or skeletal structures.
The Cambrian explosion
Most of the groups of animals we know today seem to have appeared about 540 million years ago, in the Cambrian Period.
The seas started filling up with arthropods, animals with external skeleton and jointed limbs; chordates, with tail and nerve chord; and mollusks.
The rapid appearance of these complex organisms is known as the "Cambrian explosion"
(Pikaia gracilens - the first chordate)
Agnathan fish and the origin of the jaw
"Fish" are a set of many different groups.
The agnathans, which existed in abundance between 500-400 million years ago, had jawless mouths and were often covered in heavy bone scales.
The subsequent evolution of the jaw is a revolution in the history of vertebrates, which led to experimentation with new diets and preying strategies.
Riffs and low seabeds
In the Middle Triassic, from 240 to 235 million years ago, in the area now occupied by the Alps large expanses of sea formed, inhabited by a rich diversity of organisms.
Among the dominant large predators were the marine reptiles, while the seabeds were alive with flourishing mollusk communities, echinoderms and brachiopoda.
(Tetractinella trigonella Brachiopoda, Rhynchonellata)
Being a mammal... the reasons for a planetary "boom"
The evolutionary success of mammals is a fact. They colonised the entire planet after the extinction of the dinosaurs thanks to their favorable anatomical characteristics.
Several changes in the skeleton made chewing, hearing and movement more efficient. The development of fur helped them maintain optimal body heat and therefore survive in cold climates.
The guardian of the caves
The cave bear (Ursus spelaeus) frequently lived in the caves found across Europe during the late Pleistocene.
Unlike the brown bear (Ursus arctos), the cave bear was exclusively vegetarian.
In the Alps, cave bear remains have been found in caves at medium and high altitudes that were used as shelter during the cold winters of the last glacial period.
Herbivores and fast on their hooves
Deer, antelopes, zebras, horses and donkeys are all ungulates, namely herbivorous mammals that stand and move "on tiptoe" thanks to their hooves.
Ungulates have long and well-muscled limbs that provide them with speed for fleeing from predators.
Their limbs have preserved only a few functional fingers: two in deer and antelopes and only one in horses, zebras and donkeys.
At the foot of the tree of Primates
The plesiadapiformes are considered the closest relatives of primates or the first true representatives of this group.
In the Paleocene era, they diversified and spread to Europe and North America.
Plesiadapis showed clear adaptations to arboreal life: prehensile limbs and strong claws.
It had an omnivorous diet, a key feature in the evolution of primates.
(Plesiadapis sp. - Primates, Plesiadapidae)
The tangle bush of human evolution
The evolution from the first primates to man is not as linear as we once thought.
Moving the cursor of this exhibit is like a travel in time: many species of hominids followed one upon the other and several of them actually lived together in the same environments in Africa or in Eurasia, before the appearance and spread of Homo sapiens throughout the planet.
The invisible economy of Nature
The current economy still does not take into account the value of the services offered by Nature, such as climate regulation and natural water purification, for example.
The capability of environmental systems to produce services is jeopardized by their excessive exploitation. Against immediate gain, this translates into long-term economic loss for the whole of humankind.
Up to 100 years old and in better health
The human lifespan is increasing and our demographic growth is non-stop.
Our global population is on the rise.
Better hygiene, lifestyles and safer food are influencing this trend too.
Key role, however, is played by development and the availability of new therapies, drugs and advanced medical technologies.
The Shinkansen, the Japanese world fastest train, had a problem. The change of the air pressure produced a loud thunder every time the train entered or emerged from a tunnel. Eiji Nakatsu, chief engineer of the japanese railways, had shaped the front of the train on the spout of king fisher. This bird in order to catch a fish in the water penetrates almost without splashing. Result: a quieter train with a top speed increased by 10% and energy reduction of 15%.
Minerals from the Alps
Minerals are a veritable snapshot of specific geological events. During the pre-Permian (450 million years ago) and Lower Permian (about 275 million years ago) volcanic phases, most of the central-eastern Alpine mineralizations were formed.
The elements put into circulation by the magma and the latter's reaction with surrounding rocks created the ideal conditions for mineral growth.
(Almandine with schorlite)
Mineral hunters in the Dolomites
Since the 18th century, the minerals of the Dolomites have attracted researchers from all over Europe and have boosted scientific research and collecting. The rich mineral resources of this area were generated by a volcanic event that in the mid Triassic (about 230 million years ago) produced two large volcanoes in the Predazzo (Val di Femme) and Monti Manzoni (Val di Fassa) areas.
Some minerals, such as tourmaline, take several million years to develop while others, such as rock salt, develop in just a few days. In mine areas, a few dozen years are sufficient for the creation of sulphide alteration minerals. If their chemical and physical environments do not undergo significant changes, the minerals can stay unaltered even for hundreds of millions of years.
Life on the rock faces
On rock faces, plants are often short-stemmed and grow in cushions to protect themselves from the cold and to resist strong winds.
They have long roots to gather nutrients and to hang on with, as well as succulent leaves that act as water reservoirs.
Some bird species, such as the golden eagle and the choughs, use the updraughts along the rock faces to effortlessly gain altitude.
Cliff-ledges and cavities provide excellent nesting shelters, safe from predators.
Well hidden in an open field
In alpine pastures that provide hardly any shelter, predators and prey have colors that imitate those of their natural habitat.
The stoat and the mountain hare grow a brown coat in summer and a snow-white coat in winter.
The rock ptarmigan obtains the same result in a more gradual manner, with mixed feather colorings.
How to survive a long winter
Alpine marmots live in families and dig networks of underground galleries with various rooms and many exits.
They spend almost six months in hibernation in the largest of these rooms, all together so as to keep warm.
Snow voles, on the contrary, remain active in winter. They dig tunnels between the snow and the ground in which they find shelter and dry grasses to feed on.
Alone beyond the treeline
The upper border of the forest is generated by climate conditions as well as by timber harvesting carried out by farmers to create pastures.
Solitary and contorted larches and Swiss pines often grow clinging to rocks well above this limit.
The spotted nutcracker collects Swiss pine nuts and buries them in various places as food caches for the winter. Forgotten nuts often grow into new trees.
In orde to reproduce and generate seeds, flowering plants require the the pollen be transported from one flower to another.
Some plants rely on the wind to do this, and so their flowers are small and less conspicuous.
Others use animals, especially insects.
To attract them, they have developed highly visible and boldly colored flowers with conspicuous shapes and intense scents.
By fluffing up their plumage, birds trap air bubbles among their feathers, and this isolates them from the cold air outside.
For the same reason, the fur of mountain mammals is thicker, softer and warmer.
In water, a thick layer of fat under the skin provides insulation.
Rounded shapes and the habit of staying close to each other is another strategy that helps birds and mammals keep warm.
Real ice: life in extreme outdoors
Rocks, ice and arduous paths are the symbols of high altitude mountains.
Movement at these elevations can be difficult. Life is even more difficult.
Despite the extreme living conditions, glaciers are inhabited by insects, spiders and small plants that take root along their margins
Glaciers shape the landscape
A glacier is a moving mass of snow and ice.
Its surface flow can cover 60 meters a year, as in the case of the Forni Glacier, and up to 90, as in the case of the Baltoro Glacier (Karakorum).
The glacier's displacement smoothes the rocks and shapes the valleys.
Its advancement pushes material to the slides, creating moraines.
Changes in the flow speed and the ground form causes fractures, the crevasses.
History in ice
Not only glaciers are natural archives of past climates.
Ice preserves also the traces of the White War, the series of flights and battles that took place on summits and glaciers during the First World War.
There, the first problem for the soldiers was not fighting, but to survive the cold and protect against the constant danger of avalanches.
Studying glaciers using a "carrot"
Ice originates from the transformation of snow.
As it forms, ice captures and imprisons atmospheric gases.
By studying ice strata that formed in past eras, it is possible to study the changes in climate that occurred over time.
The ice core in display was extracted in Antartica by Italian researchers.
Two centuries of mountaineering
8 August 1786: a crystal collector and the general practitioner of Chamonix reach to first the summit of Mont Blac.
This ascent marks the start of modern mountaineering and the scientific study of the Alps.
By the mid-19th century all of the Alpine summits had been ascended.
The truly historical documents on display witness the most significant episodes in Italian Alpinism.
The scientist goes to the mountains
The Alps became a highly attractive venue for explorers, scholars and scientists.
Among the latter, the geologist Deodat Dolomieu in 1791 described "a sort of calcareous rock that does not effervesce in weak acid and is phosphorescent upon collision".
In his honor, this rock was named Dolomite and the mountain massifs where it is more commonly found were called the Dolomites.
MUSE - Museo delle Scienze
Web Exhibit Management: Davide Dalpiaz
Photos: Matteo De Stefano, Hufton & Crow, Elena Munerati