the origin of life

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this tuesday, i got a chance to peek at what some of innsbruck’s chemists are doing:

relatively small container with the early earth's atmosphere

right now, there’s an ongoing experiment based on the miller-urey-experiment [wikipedia: de, en] at the university of innsbruck.
stanley miller and harold clayton urey proved in 1953(!), that aminoacids (the base of all life-forms that we know of) could develop naturally under early atmosphere conditions of the earth.
this process is called “chemical evolution”.

nowadays, the composition of the early earth’s atmosphere is believed to be different than what miller and urey assumed, but the outcome is similar: organic molecules can (and will) form naturally, using very basic molecules (mainly water, methane, ammonia and hydrogen) and energy in the form of lightning.

here in innsbruck, scientists made a small modification to this setup: clay minerals (silicates) were added, because they have proven to influence the chemical evolution (and they were there, a few billion years ago).
after one month, they’re going to analyze what looks like green goo, and see what molecules are formed in this different setup…

when data about the atmosphere of titan was collected in january 2005, they also tried a similar experiment for titan conditions (different atmosphere, temperatures below freezing, …), to see if life (in very simple forms) could have evolved there.
after all, it’s still unknown where all the methane comes from and why it’s still there.
from what we know now, it IS possible.

[view photos: miller-urey-experiment - chemical evolution]

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