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The City Journals

See how animals run, adapt and help modern-day science at ‘Nature’s Ultimate Machines’

May 15, 2018 10:59AM ● By Jana Klopsch

Students at the museum look at how hard the giraffe’s heart must pump in order to get blood up through its tall seven-foot neck. (Photo/Caity Gainer, Natural History Museum of Utah)

By Christy Jepson l [email protected]

Have you ever wondered why a woodpecker never gets a headache? Or what tiny animal has a punch so strong that it can break aquarium glass? Or who has a stronger grip: a human or a chimpanzee? These questions and many more can be answered at the new traveling exhibit “Nature’s Ultimate Machines” at the Natural History Museum of Utah from now until Sept. 3.

“I believe this exhibit is one of the most hands-on and interactive exhibits we’ve had to date,” said Lisa Thompson, the exhibit developer for the Natural History Museum of Utah. This exhibit shows the amazing inner workings of how creatures have learned to adapt to harsh environmental conditions and how they fight daily battles to help them survive. The exhibit features 130 specimens, scale models, videos and interactive displays to help guests discover how plants and animals have developed unique ways of moving, adapting and surviving in their own habitat.  

When visiting the new exhibit guests can: explore a larger-than-life termite mound and look and see how its design is used in modern architecture, feel how much energy it takes to pump blood up through a giraffe’s 7-foot neck, learn which creatures can crush over 8,000 pounds in one bite and learn about different ways creatures swim, slither, jump and gallop. 

“One of the favorite areas for kids is the flying chair where guests can sit on a tall office chair which spins, and choose between two different types of wings that are made out of a light PVC pipe and canvas. They flap the wings up and down to help them spin around,” said Thompson.  Different shaped wings have different results when you start to move them up and down. According to Thompson, this hands-on flying area gets guests thinking about which shape of wings help birds fly away quickly versus which shape of wings are needed for birds that fly long distance. 

Guests engage in all the interactive and digital exhibits while learning also about the marvels of natural engineering that inspire modern mechanics, such as the creation of Velcro, chainsaws and wind turbines. This entire exhibit brings to life the connection between biology and modern day engineering. For example, guests will be able to see that by studying the bone structure of a woodpecker—and why they never get headaches or concussions even when they peck wood 20 times per second—is helpful and useful in research to help make better, stronger, and safer helmets for football players.   

This exhibition was developed by The Field Museum in Chicago. All Field Museum exhibits are in English and Spanish. 

The Natural History Museum of Utah is open seven days a week from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. except Wednesdays when they are open from 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. Ticket prices are $14.95 for adults, $12.95 for seniors 65 and older, $12.95 for ages 13-24, and $9.95 for children 3-12 years old. University of Utah students and faculty are free with valid ID. The museum is located at 301 Wakara Way in Salt Lake City. For additional information, visit: