The Machine Inside: Biomechanics at The Field Museum

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

Using 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 Venus fly trap detects its next meal; and how many other organisms function as machines in order to survive, move, and discover.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

The Field Museum is open from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. every day of the year, except Christmas Day.

For ticket information visit

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