Students in the Segal Design Institute’s Design Thinking and Communication course may give some very special clients a little pep in their step. Last year the freshman-level engineers created the “Tuxedo,” a waterproof bandage designed for the Shedd Aquarium’s Magellanic penguins. The penguins are living longer lives thanks to the Shedd’s top-flight animal care, and as a result, the aquarium asked students to develop a prototype that could help penguins stand, walk and swim comfortably if any age-related changes in their feet arise.
The project was part of a partnership between the Shedd and Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science that challenges students to create specialized animal care devices for some of the 1,500 species at the Shedd.
“In human medicine, for almost any procedure that the physician wants to do, there is a device available,” says Bill Van Bonn, vice president for animal health at the aquarium. “We work with such a variety and diversity of animals, so that’s not really practical, and no one’s going to create the same device for a stingray and a penguin.”
Students have designed about a dozen devices for the Shedd since the partnership began in 2005, including an anesthesia machine for fish and a decompression chamber for seahorses. Robert Shaw (McC70, KSM81), an advisory board member at both the Shedd and Northwestern, helped launch the collaboration.
One of the most recent projects challenged students to develop enrichment items for the Shedd’s sea otters. After spending a quarter observing the otters, speaking with Shedd staff and coming up with designs, the four students are now honing their prototype of an otter maze to engage the animals’ natural curiosity and bring them closer to visitors.