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'The Machine Inside: Biomechanics' On Display at the Field Museum

By Josh McGhee | March 14, 2014 8:24am
 The new exhibit at the Field Museum investigates the marvel of natural engineering that allows animals to thrive and survive in their habitats.
The Machine Inside: Biomechanics
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CHICAGO — Most people know the cheetah is the fastest land mammal but don't know how its spine adds extra spring to allow longer strides.

Some people know bats use echolocation to navigate but don't know humans now use echolocation to benefit the blind.

"The Machine Inside: Biomechanics" will examine these along with the strength of a giraffe's heart and bird's wings in "the most interactive traveling exhibition we've ever had," said Tom Skwerski, project manager for the exhibit.

"You get to see why a giraffe's heart has to be so strong," Skwerski said. "It's fighting gravity."

The exhibit will include a model of a giraffe's heart that visitors can handle.

"As you squeeze you see the blood leave the heart and shoot to his head. You're starting at ground zero and it takes about 5-10 seconds depending on how hard you squeeze," Skwerski said.

The new exhibit, which opened Wednesday at the Field Museum, 1400 S. Lake Shore Drive, explores the "natural engineering" that help creatures thrive and the tactics they use to "endure the planet's extreme temperatures, find food against fierce competition, and circulate their own life-sustaining fluids."

It will also examine how humans use "biomimicry," finding design inspiration in nature to invent things to benefit the world.

Sections of the exhibit include:

Staying in One Piece: Structures and Materials explores "the right tools for the job" creatures use to withstand the extreme elements of the world. This section introduces biomimicry and shows how Velcro was invented after "a walk through the woods with a family dog."

Going with the Flow: Pumps and Pipes features touchable heart models of a mammal, bird, reptile, fish and amphibian, along with a real giraffe's heart visitors can pump.

Surviving the Elements: Insulation and Radiators examines the "tricks of size, shape and innovative insulation" that animals use to maintain their body temperature such as the Fennec Fox's ears, which help keep it cool. Visitors will see how much different clothes lock in heat and use thermal cameras to determine how much heat they are currently losing.

Grabbing a Bite: Jaws and Claws explains how the shape of skull and jaw muscles determine the force behind a bite and the benefits of the chimpanzees' intense grip and the strength of a Harpy Eagle, which can grab and carry monkeys.

Crossing the Landscape: Legs and Springs examines how creatures use springs and momentum to hop, run, and jump across the Earth. MABEL, "a bipedal robot developed at the University of Michigan that mimics the way humans walk," will be on display.

Launching into the Blue: Wings and Fins displays how animals that travel by air and water "harness the power of fluid dynamics to propel themselves to their destination."

Gathering Intelligence: Eyes, Ears and Beyond features how plants and animals use heightened sensory equipment to decode the world. Also, learn how humans use echolocation, similar to bats, to create tools for the blind.

"The Machine Inside: Biomechanics" was produced by the Field Museum in partnership with the Denver Museum of Nature and Science. Tickets are included in both Discovery and All-Access passes to the museum and special discounts are available for Chicago residents. It will run through January 4.

Visit fieldmuseum.org to buy tickets or call 888-343-5385 for special group rates for 10 or more people.