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Who's That Sitting In This Penny? It Might Surprise You

 A sitting Abraham Lincoln in a penny. Photographed via a high-powered mircroscope at UI Labs on Goose Island.
A sitting Abraham Lincoln in a penny. Photographed via a high-powered mircroscope at UI Labs on Goose Island.
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DNAinfo/Justin Breen

GOOSE ISLAND — Did you know there are two Abe Lincolns on many pennies?

A super-high-tech machine showcased during a recent tour of UI Labs revealed a little-known fact about the back of a U.S. penny: an extremely tiny President Abraham Lincoln sitting in his chair in the middle of the Lincoln Memorial.

Once you know he's there, you can kind of spot it with the naked eye. But it takes a good microscope to really see it — and UI Labs' Alicona InfiniteFocus Optical Measurement Machine does the trick.

The Lincoln penny has been around since 1909, the 100-year anniversary of the 16th president's birth. The design with the tiny Lincoln sitting in the memorial was adapted in 1959. That design was in play until 2009, when the coin received four new looks, including one of Lincoln reporting to work at the Illinois Legislature.

U.S. Mint officials told the Washington Post it's important to revisit coin designs every few decades for "security and aesthetic purposes."

The back of the 1959-2009 Lincoln penny also reads: "UNITED STATES oF AMERICA," "ONE CENT," and "E PLURIBUS UNUM." That translates to "Out of many, one."

Tony Del Sesto, director of manufacturing research and development at UI Labs, said the maker of the powerful microscope, Alicona, is an Austrian company with American headquarters in suburban Bartlett. It works with the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute — a UI Labs innovation platform — to demonstrate and test its technology in collaboration with other partners. The machine is at the UI Labs Innovation Center within the Metrology Lab.

Del Sesto said the machine "uses focus-variation technology to create a 3D digital representation of surfaces." It can measure surface roughness as small at 15 nanometers — a human hair is about 80,000 nanometers.

Of course Lincoln is a big part of Chicago. Lincoln Square erected a statue in his honor in 1956. Lincoln spoke from the city's Tremont Hotel in 1860. Chicago was included in a massive funeral procession for Lincoln as well.

UI Labs is "a collaboration platform that brings Universities and Industries together to define problems, design partnerships and deliver scalable solutions," according to its website.

You can host an event at the Labs, which feature dozens of high-tech machines and the software that operates them, by clicking here.