The John G. Shedd Aquarium and Northwestern University are strengthening their existing partnership as students at Northwestern University’s McCormick School of Engineering develop technological innovations to enhance animal welfare for animals at the Shedd Aquarium and their counterparts in the wild. For over ten years, the Shedd Aquarium’s Animal Health team has worked with Northwestern Engineering to innovate solutions to problems, enhancing animal healthcare practices at the Shedd Aquarium. For the first time, conservation scientists at the Shedd Aquarium have proposed projects to engineering students that enable those scientists to conduct research in pursuit of protecting wild animal populations. Expanding the Shedd-Northwestern partnership allows Northwestern engineering students to develop prototypes for technology that addresses challenges scientists face while studying animals in the Great Lakes basin and the Caribbean Sea region.
Since 2005, Northwestern engineering students have completed twenty projects. A notable example was a food maze that serves as an “interactive enrichment tool” for sea otters. Another interesting prototype they developed was an orthopedic booty for old rockhopper penguins. The program was the brainchild of Bob & Charlene Shaw, who are both Northwestern alumni and donors to the Shedd Aquarium.
“We developed this partnership because when it comes to aquatic animal medicine, there aren’t many commercially designed products that meet our needs,” Dr. Bill Van Bonn, Vice President for Animal Health at the Shedd Aquarium, stated last October. “To provide our level of advanced care to more than 1,500 species – ranging from a 700-pound California sea lion to a 7-ounce seahorse – requires a lot of specialized technology. Now, after many successful prototypes have been implemented within Shedd’s four walls, our conservation research team is bringing a new element to the program by testing students’ innovative technologies in field research.”
In a press release, the Shedd Aquarium stated, “The partnership provides a one-of-a-kind, hands-on learning experience for students. By applying their knowledge from coursework, they develop innovative solutions while working as a team, problem-solving and communicating effectively with Shedd experts. It also allows students to see various career paths and receive mentorship.”
“Students at every level, from freshmen through seniors, apply design thinking to real project with real clients,” stated Stacy Benjamin, Director of the Segal Design Certificate program at Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering. “We look for opportunities that require the students to combine creativity with technical and engineering skills to explore a range of possible solutions. Projects with Shedd Aquarium provide that mix and the students are always excited to collaborate with such an important Chicago institution.”
The Shedd Aquarium stated, “As Northwestern students head back-to-school, Shedd’s experts are brainstorming future ways to engage the classroom, whether it be tackling new challenges or building upon three projects launched this past year.”
For example, two teams of students from Northwestern’s Design Thinking and Communication class received a mandate to build an underwater video camera mount capable of withstanding the high water velocities of rivers and creeks to facilitate data collection for Dr. Karen Murchie, a research biologist at the Shedd Aquarium. She is studying both white suckers and longnose suckers during their spring spawning runs as part of a broader effort to comprehend the challenges that migratory fishes must overcome on the Great Lakes basin.
Another team of student-engineers partnered with Dr. Steve Kessel, Director of Marine Research at the Shedd Aquarium. They created the “Snappy Shark Timer” prototype for him because he is assessing the benefits throughout the ecosystem of protecting sharks in the Bahamas. To this end, he is capturing sharks, taking tissue and blood samples, tagging, releasing them, and them observing their locations.
Meanwhile, a third group worked with Dr. Van Bonn and animal trainers at the Shedd Aquarium to construct an anesthesia mask designed specifically for California sea lions. Such a mask is not available commercially and it is imperative for the veterinary team to have it on-hand.
Figure 1 Credit: Shedd Aquarium Caption: Northwestern student-engineers have developed a wide variety of projects for the Shedd Aquarium, including a state-of-the-art otter food maze that serves as an “interactive enrichment tool” to challenge the sea otters at the Shedd Aquarium.
Credit: Shedd Aquarium Caption: Video shows Luna, a rescued sea otter at the Shedd Aquarium, solving the food maze.
Figure 2 Credit: Shedd Aquarium Caption: Last year, Northwestern’s Design Thinking and Communication class developed an underwater video camera mount that could withstand high water velocities in rivers and creeks. This way, hours of behavioral data can be recorded to aid Shedd’s Dr. Karen Murchie’s research on migratory fishes in the Great Lakes. Here, we see students with their prototype designs.
Figure 3 Credit: Shedd Aquarium Caption: These are Northwestern University engineering students with their prototype design for an underwater video camera mount.
Figure 4 Credit: Shedd Aquarium Caption: Dr. Karen Murchie, a research biologist and instructor, is studying the movements of white and longnose suckers during their spring spawning runs. To facilitate data collection, two teams of students from Northwestern University’s Design Thinking and Communication class developed an underwater video camera mount that could withstand high water velocities in rivers and creeks, while hours of behavioral data can be recorded.