Field Museum show examines the body as a machine

March 11, 2014

Photo courtesy of Field Museum/© Perry Aragon
The Mantis shrimp’s claw uses a spring mechanism to punch the shells of its prey, “at the speed of a bullet” according to the Field Museum’s Marie Georg. Scientists discovered this biomechanical marvel using modern high-speed cameras.

A new exhibit opening Wednesday at Chicago’s Field Museum looks at how animal and human bodies alike function using nature's equivalent of pumps and springs.

Visitors to the show will learn how a tiny fox’s ears work like air conditioning, why a mantis shrimp’s spring mechanism makes it the “hardest puncher in the animal kingdom,” and how a giraffe’s heart pumps blood all the way up its long neck to its brain  (The short answer? Apparently giraffes have astonishingly high blood pressure.)

Scientists who study insects, birds and other creatures to understand these mechanisms, are finding human applications such as Velcro and artificial legs for runners.

For a sneak peek at the exhibit, listen above to my audio tour with the Field Museum’s Marie Georg.

Lynette Kalsnes is a WBEZ producer/reporter covering religion, culture and science. Follow her @LynetteKalsnes