On Tuesday, a teacher at St. Francis de Sales High School encouraged her students to gather around a large glass box displaying a fossil over 100 million years old near the entrance to a new exhibit at the Field. Museum.
She asked if they noticed how the fossil almost looked like it was printed on canvas as she pointed to the ridges depicting a prehistoric sea creature.
Uriel Bahena, a freshman studying fossilization in his earth science class at St. Francis de Sales, was beyond fascinated.
“You get to see a first hand experience [of] that – not just through textbooks and passages – you actually get to [have] hands on…that,” Bahena, 15, said after exploring the 7,500-square-foot exhibit. “So it was very interesting to see how it actually works.”
Bahena was among the first wave of guests who got an exclusive preview of the Field Museum’s new exhibit, “Jurassic Oceans: Monsters of the Deep.”
The immersive exhibit, which aims to bring the unvisited but intriguing depths of the Jurassic seas to life, features more than 100 fossils and models of sea creatures dating back more than 200 million years and will be open to the general public on Friday.
The exhibit will allow visitors to dive deep into prehistoric waters and learn about the animals that hid in the oceans as dinosaurs roamed the land. And its lighting effects, backdrops, and computer-generated image projections of creatures swimming around enhance the “underwater” experience for guests.
On Tuesday, dozens of teenagers involved with the Big Shoulders Fund, My Block My Hood My City and the Duke of Edinburgh Award International walked through the exhibit.
The long-necked plesiosaur – which measures 33 feet long – and a 16-foot-long spear-toothed whale, also known as Durodon, were two structures that appealed to students.
“It’s really exciting to see the size of some of these things,” said Marie Georg, exhibit manager at the Field Museum. “So maybe you heard about it because you saw a picture in a book… but seeing these huge fossils [in real life] shows you how big they really were.
And while many museum exhibits prohibit visitors from touching the displays, this one actually encourages people to feel certain aspects – much to the delight of visiting guests on Tuesday.
A screen showed the different brain sizes of three creatures. One student, grabbing the taller one, joked with his teacher that it reminded him of his smart classmate.
Other hands-on experiences throughout the exhibit included opportunities for visitors to touch real fossils of shelled creatures from the Mesozoic era and to feel the textures of replicated sea creature skins.
“My favorite part was the fossils and how you could feel their skin to give you a better idea of their condition,” Bahena said. “And that overall gives you more of a picture than you can [put with] these creatures.
Many models and fossils also display a “fierce factor”, a ranking of the animal’s ferocity based on factors such as its teeth, diet, and overall toughness. Some were surprised to learn that the Leedsichthys, the largest ray-finned fish known to have ever existed, was low on the “fierce” totem. Sharks weren’t the main predators of the Jurassic oceans either.
Bahena said the exhibit, on the ground floor of the museum, gave her a new appreciation for science and the ocean.
“The way this all builds is beyond what I would have thought and known,” he said. “So it gives me more pleasure to love life, to see more of it and to discover it.”
The exhibition was produced and curated by the Natural History Museum in London. The Field Museum is the exhibit’s first stop on its tour of the United States and will remain on site until September 5 before moving on to its next destination, which was not immediately known.
“We are delighted to be working with the Field Museum to launch our ‘Jurassic Oceans: Monsters of the Deep’ exhibition, which features some of the most striking specimens from our collections,” Doug Gurr, Director of the Natural History Museum, London, said in a statement. “At this time when our planet is in crisis, it is more critical than ever for us to act as defenders of the natural world. We hope visitors will enjoy diving deep into the history of our fascinating oceans and be inspired to protect their future.