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

Using actual specimens, life-like models, some 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; and how a toucan stays cool in the jungle and much, much more. 

The Machine Inside: Biomechanics is presented in both English and Spanish at The Field. The bilingual exhibition was developed by Museum in partnership with the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. It’s 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.  

With variations of size, shape, color, and insulation, animals can stop the heat and cold from invading or escaping. The exhibition demonstrates just  how a toucan’s beak, a fox’s ears, and a duck’s feet all act as radiators to regulate temperature.  

Biological 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. Visitors will discover the complexities of our own human gait when they watch a two-legged robot try to walk.  

Biomechanics also presents examples of biomimicry, man-made innovations inspired by mechanisms found in nature, demonstrating 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.  

The Machine Inside: Biomechanics opens at the Field Museum on March 12, 2014. For more information, visit fieldmuseum.org.

Why is the cheetah the fastest land animal? The aerodynamic snout, the long, skinny tail for balance, claws that never retract provide extra traction, and a spin that curls under for extra reach (photo copyright by The Field Museum).

New Field Exhibition Takes "Nuts and Bolts" Look at Natural World

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