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The Machine Inside: Biomechanics

April 12, 2014 Attraction No Comments Email Email

Opening March 12, The Field Museum’s newest exhibition, The Machine Inside: Biomechanics, explores animals and plants as machines built for survival, complete with pumps, pipes, insulation, motors, springs, and intelligence gathering devices.

uhotelsresortsUsing real specimens, life-like models, amazing video footage, and interactive displays, the exhibition investigates how cheetahs run so fast and fleas jump so far; how the bite force of an extinct fish made it a top predator; how a toucan stays cool in the jungle; how a Venus fly trap detects its next meal; and how many other organisms function as machines in order to survive, move, and discover.

The Machine Inside: Biomechanics is presented in both English and Spanish. The bilingual exhibition was developed by The Field Museum in partnership with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. It is funded by a grant from the Searle Funds at The Chicago Community Trust. Lead Sponsor: ITW.

The ability to defend against external pressures—like the forces of wind and water and the pull of gravity—is key to survival. This capacity often depends on flexibility; skin stretches, bones flex, and cartilage compresses and bounces back.Biomechanics also features an array of diverse rigid structures—including bones and shells—that demonstrate how the dome shape is one of the best protectors exemplified by the human skull, the tortoise shell, and the horseshoe crab carapace.

The never-ending race to distribute life-sustaining supplies to every cell in the body also poses a challenge to survival. Living things use pumps, pipes, and pressure to move air and fluids where they’re needed most. An exhibition highlight features a giraffe’s heart and shows how the organ’s unique structure enables it to pump blood up the animal’s long neck to its brain. You can compare other life-like models of animal hearts, including those of a fish, frog, turtle, eagle, and human.

With variations of size, shape, color, and insulation, animals can stop the heat and cold from invading or escaping. Discover how a toucan’s beak, a fox’s ears, and a duck’s feet all act as radiators to regulate temperature. Test out a thermal camera to learn how much heat your body loses compared to animals covered in fur, blubber, or feathery down.

Motors and levers (in the form of muscles, bones, and joints) set internal machinery in motion so animals can hunt and explore. Biomechanics takes a close look at the design and function of many types of jaws, claws, and legs, including a mechanical model of an extinct fish called Dunkleosteus that demonstrates the sea monster’s incredible bite force. The exhibition also examines the quick, powerful, and surprisingly graceful movements of smaller animals such as mantis shrimps, trap jaw ants, and fleas. Discover the complexities of our own human gait when you watch a two-legged robot try to walk.

Animals that move through air and water have evolved sleek forms that harness the power of fluid dynamics to propel themselves. In a unique interactive, you can experience “flying” by flapping a long and short wing. The activity demonstrates how short wings allow for a faster start but require more energy to sustain flight; conversely, longer wings provide a slower start, but eventually use less energy.

Plants and animals gather information using an array of senses necessary for survival. Scientists are just beginning to understand some of these. For example, sea turtles sense magnetic impulses, and the hammerhead shark can detect electricity. A special touchscreen interactive investigates how the eye has independently evolved many times with many different mechanical configurations.

Biomechanics also presents examples of biomimicry, man-made innovations inspired by mechanisms found in nature. Discover how burrs found in dog fur inspired the invention of Velcro, how prosthetic limbs are modeled on the action of human muscles and tendons, and how humans have mined and mimicked nature’s designs in other ways to improve our lives.

By delving deep, speeding things up, slowing things down, and presenting the inner-workings of plants and animals, Biomechanics gives us with a new appreciation for the machine inside all living things.

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