The Machine Inside

Let’s take a stroll through the Ontario Science Centre’s current special exhibit: Biomechanics – The Machine Inside!

A touring exhibition developed by the Field Museum and Denver Museum of Nature & Science, this is a really fun exhibit exploring all kinds of aspects of biomechanics. (But get those garbage cans away from the entrance wall, OSC, that’s terrible show and everyone wants to take pictures in front of the cheetah!)

We start off in ‘Built to Survive’, and a section on the materials and shapes that organisms have evolved for different purposes. A couple of things I liked right away: the use of both living and extinct organisms, including animals AND plants, and the abundance of real specimens throughout the exhibit. Here we get to learn why round shapes are a recurring theme.

Next up, pipes and pumps! We get to try our hand at pumping blood all the way up to the top of this sitting giraffe’s head. It’s surprisingly difficult!

And last in this section, insulation and radiators, including this delightfully creepy deer straight out of one of my old physics textbooks, which used to have problem sets that read along the lines of ‘A fully loaded penguin sled is travelling at 2 m/s…’. But I kid – it’s a nice way of visualizing the square-cube law.

Right next to the deer is an endlessly entertaining thermal camera screen where you can see your hot and cold spots. Fun things to compare: your friends with cold cold hands, your own overly hot face against everyone else’s, etc. etc. Also fun: how rad people wearing glasses look.

The next major theme we get to explore is ‘moving around’, focusing on locomotion and feeding adaptations. There are some classic examples here, like how different bird wing shapes are adapted for different flight styles and needs.

And we also get to have fun flinging fish faces around! This is the sling-jaw wrasse, and it’s a cool example of how the bones in fish skulls work together to allow many kinds of fish to protrude their jaws. This area also has lots of great slow-motion videos to help us see weird and unusual movements, and overall this section has the best ratio of hands-on interactive stuff to specimens and static displays in the whole exhibit.

A final section of the exhibit covers the biomechanics of sensing your environment, a cool part of biomechanics that’s easy to gloss over in favour of things like biting and flying but is just as important. So here we get to learn about bat echolocation, magnetic sensing in sea turtles, and how eyes evolved over and over again.

And this is a great spot for me to segue into one of my favourite parts of this whole exhibit, the incorporation of biomimicry throughout! How do morphological adaptations inform the design of human technology? I thought this example of a bat-inspired cane for people with low vision was really interesting – the cane sends out ultrasound which bounces back and make it vibrate, giving more information to the person using it compared to traditional canes. Not sure if this is widely in use, but seems interesting!

Another cool biomimicry example: the bumps on humpback whale fins are inspiring better designs for wind turbines and airplane wings, because it turns out they help increase the angle of attack without stalling, and enhance lift. Neato stuff.

 

This is a cool exhibit that was a good fit for the interactives-heavy Ontario Science Centre, and seemed to be keeping the attention of visitors big and small when we visited on a Saturday a few weeks ago. (It certainly kept a group of palaeontologists busy for several hours!) While the first and last sections could use a few more hands-on interactives compared to the excellent middle section on feeding and locomotion, that feels like a pretty minor complaint considering the variety of ways information is being communicated throughout the exhibit. One other thing that would have been cool to see would have been the biomechanics of animal combat, but I’m obviously biased in that direction. All in all, super fun and definitely worth checking out if it comes to your town! Biomechanics: The Machine Inside is at the Ontario Science Centre until May 7th.

A Geology Road Trip through North Carolina: Part 3, Barrier Islands

Well it took way longer to get to the third and final part of this little post series, but I guess that’s what happens when you’re moving ‘internationally’ while preparing for a conference. C’est la vie! Let’s get to it:

North Carolina’s coast is almost completely framed by a series of barrier islands called the Outer Banks. In a sense, NC gets *two* coastlines – the coastline opening onto the sounds enclosed by the barrier islands, and the coast that opens onto the angry angry Atlantic Ocean.

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Continue reading

Burgers and Hot Dogs

Sydney Mohr is a friend and colleague of mine whose art you will have seen in the news lately, if you are inclined to read about ankylosaurs. She’s done amazing reconstructions of two ankylosaurs for me in the last year – Ziapelta and Gobisaurus – and so I asked her to take a few minutes and tell us about her process for creating her palaeoart. Also this way I get to show off more of her drawings, so yay!

Sydney decided that this Gobisaurus was named Burger, and that seemed fine with me. Continue reading

Chaoyang Geopark


During the Flugsaurier Symposium I went on a field trip to Liaoning Province, which was a great opportunity to see different parts of China and visit Jehol group outcrops and museums. We first visited the Chaoyang Fossil Bird Geopark, which included a museum, in situ exhibits, parks, and lots of interesting statues. This is Nurhachius, an istiodactylid pterosaur from the Jiufotang Formation. The model has too many teeth, but he’s still pretty fun.


One of the best parts of the visit was this great in situ display exposing Jehol Group rocks. It had fairly good descriptions of the geology, and even marked on faults and other interesting features. Fossils discovered during the excavation were left in place, and included Cathayornis, Shenzhouraptor, and lots of fish.


Inside the museum proper were literally hundreds of Liaoning fossils of every sort – insects, plants, fish, turtles, champsosaurs, theropods, birds, pterosaurs – the list goes on and on. Here’s just a single display case showing off various fossil birds – I think they are all Confuciusornis, but may be mistaken.


It was easy to be overwhelmed by the sheer volume of fossil material in the geopark. After we finished in the museum we entered the fossil forest full of enormous petrified stumps. Incredible!

The museum and geopark had a few glitches – some specimens were mislabelled or in the wrong hallway, and there may have been a few ‘plussed’ specimens on display – but it was a really cool place that certainly has a lot of potential if a few of these errors are fixed up. Continue reading

A dinosaur visits the Dinosaur Visitor Centre.


Just as we were packing up to leave for the weekend last Friday, lab manager Yun found this little friend in the lab’s garden. I am not sure exactly what sort of bird it is, but it what somewhat like a merlin or small peregrine falcon. It let us walk up almost right to it, which made us think it was injured in some way. At one point it flew off a little bit, so we knew its wings weren’t broken. It had been raining all day and clearly this guy had gotten pretty soaked. Continue reading