Today, University museums represent one of the most diffused cultural heritage on the territory, particularly if we think about the highly valuable mineralogic and petrographic collections, that actually could be the key for the comprehension of both natural and cultural heritage. The entire society is unconsciously involved in nature and earth science, as for example happens in the exploitation of georesources or in the employ of natural stone in architecture.
Nevertheless, this involvement is not reflected onto the scientific museums, which are often left behind, as museums of secondary importance. In the collective imagination they are boring and not so interesting. It’s for this reason that the museums themselves, and the scientific communities, particularly that of Earth Sciences, need to work in order to increase social awareness towards the importance of their heritage. This is here attempted by making the visit more attractive and scientific contents more accessible.
A smart answer
The collaboration among geologists, conservators and computer scientists led to the implementation of a new communication system based on the personal experience of the visitors, with the aim to improve the fruition of the collections belonging to the Museum of Mineralogy, Petrography and Volcanology of the University of Catania. We are talking about a web application named I-Peter, the Interactive Platform to Experience Tours and Education on the Rocks, which contextually aims at diffusing a new idea of museum, no longer a simple container of wonders, but a place of study and research.
The users, independently to their education level or cultural background, have the possibility to learn by playing, thus appreciating the contents of the museums. The main principle is to put the visitor in the center of the visit path, giving him/her the possibility to choose what to see, tailoring the visit according to his/her interests.
The web application, interacting with a database, offers the users two different exploration modes. A classical visit, defined by the museum curator, where the user can navigate through a hierarchical scheme, starting from the exposed sample towards different levels, from the microscopic level to the material application in real life, as for example in a monument. Besides this mode, an inverse path it is possible: the user can, using an interactive map of the city, select a monument to investigate and observe the details of the stone applied, continuing the visit towards the exposed sample and its material characteristics.
The implementation of a database labeled of rocks’ and minerals’ images allows to provide a support for scientific research connected with artificial intelligence and of machine learning. Thanks to a functionality of I-Peter it is possible to obtain a simple database of labelled images that could be used, for example, to train systems of machine learning. Thanks to algorithms of artificial intelligence, this technology allows to associate images with words with the aim to retrieve the researched image starting from its content description, and the inverse process, from the image to its textual description.
By using the already existing principle of the virtual visit, the system introduces an interesting innovation in the modality of realization, linked to web surfing, and in the multiple services offered, an informatics tool simultaneously addressed to tourists and, thanks to the exportation of a dataset, to researchers. Furthermore, the museum staff will obtain, automatically from a linked data analytics system, a feedback from the users. The web-app is availabe for a museum fruition also behind closed doors.
Contributors to this article: Antonio Stroscio, Alessia Coccato, Dario Allegra, Germana Barone, Paolo Mazzoleni, Filippo Stanco.