Celebrating SUE at The Field Museum Review - Happy 10th Birthday!

SUE gets ready for her close up, as cameras begin rolling in Stanley Field Hall for the new 3-D movie "Waking the T.rex 3-D:The Story of SUE Courtesy of Rob Grzymala

I remember the excitement when SUE was first introduced to Chicago. It was hard to believe she was part of our city- the most complete and well-preserved T-Rex to date.  She was named after the woman who discovered her, Sue Hendrickson. How quickly she became a Chicago icon!  I just can’t believe that it was ten years ago.  Can you? 

SUE say "hello" to audience

I had the opportunity of previewing her birthday celebration. Attendees met SUE, who had “escaped” into the 3-D theater where she greeted school children and journalists, in her “old” skin.  However, her skeleton remained in its usual place in   Stanley Field Hall,  the place where she has delighted more than 16 million visitors in the last decade including my grandchildren.  Additional new, fun dinosaur experiences await those who come to partake in birthday activities through September 6, 2010.

SUE takes attention from John McCarter, President and CEO, The Field Museum

I generally hate 3D experiences but I absolutely make an exception for Waking the T . rex 3D:The Story of SUE , a Field Museum premiere. The movie was shown in the Museum’s new 3-D theater, and I really felt myself face-to-face with the T. rex.  It was “in my face”.  The movie was a compelling, fascinating way to learn what researchers have learned about SUE. The 3-D aspect was simply amazing. Joan Allen and Don Kempf, (President and Founder, D3D Cinema), who narrated the film, were present at this show.

Don Kempf and Joan Allen with SUE behind

Near the exhibition of SUE’s real skeleton, we had the chance to enter a prehistoric world: RoboSUE: The T. rex Experience and take a journey back in time.  We saw the super-realistic robotic SUE who looked directly at us and reacted to our movements.  Our group was mesmerized watching the realistic movements of hungry Velicoraptors and a Triceratops guarding her nest among other animals.

Matthew Fisher, President, KumoTek (responsible for "RoboSUE" technology)

SUE represents The Field Museum’s leadership in paleontology. Since the Museum’s founding in 1893, its scientists have made many breakthroughs in understanding the history of life on Earth.

Palentologist Lindsay Zanno works to expose a dinosaur bone during fieldwork in South Dakota Courtesy of David Clark

I’ve been fascinated with the story of SUE being discovered by Sue (Hendrickson.)  It is a wonderfully inspiring story for young girls who visit the museum.

No dinosaur in the world compares to SUE – the largest, most complete, and best-preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever found. The Field Museum unveiled her 67 million-year-old fossil skeleton in May, 2000 and since then more than 16 million visitors have marveled at Chicago’s prehistoric giant. In addition, more than six million people – from Alaska to Dubai – have seen the special traveling exhibition, A T. rex Named SUE, which features a full-size cast model of the dinosaur and many hands-on activities.    
SUE’s sex is unknown (she’s named after Sue Hendrickson, the fossil hunter who discovered her in South Dakota in 1990). But this is what we do know: Over 90 percent of her bones were found – it’s very unusual for a fossil to be so complete. This proves that after she died (probably by a riverbank), she was quickly covered in mud before scavengers could reach her or weather could erode her. SUE’s skeleton reveals important information about her life. Her massive frame supported a body that weighed nearly seven tons. Wounds on her bones that were first thought to be bite marks and battle scars were later discovered to be lesions probably caused by infections. By counting the rings in SUE’s bones – much like counting rings in tree stumps – scientists discovered that she grew rapidly during adolescence and was 28 years old when she died – the upper range of T. rex life expectancy.

SUE stalks her prey in "Waking the T.rex 3-D:The Story of SUE" Courtesy of D3D Cinema

Researchers performed a CAT scan on SUE’s skull and discovered that T. rex sense of smell was especially keen. Although her brain was just large enough to hold a quart of liquid, the two olfactory lobes in her skull (used to detect and interpret smell) were about the size of grapefruits! That sense of smell was essential for finding food, and sharp, serrated teeth – some measuring one-foot in length – were the steak knives she used for slicing through meat. But we don’t know for sure if T. rex was a hunter or a scavenger, or both. Watching her eat in the movie takes a strong stomach!

The movie tells the story of how The Field Museum acquired SUE at an auction in New York in 1997 for a record total price of $8.36 million (that’s still the largest amount ever paid for a fossil.) The following year, the Museum built the glass-enclosed McDonald’s Fossil Preparation Laboratory – a state-of-the-art facility for cleaning and restoring SUE’s bones. Paleontologists painstakingly cleaned her bones with tools not unlike those used by dentists to clean teeth.  Twenty-five thousand hours* were spent on this delicate process – 3,500 hours on the skull alone (*that equates to one person working 15 years full-time!) Scientists removed almost three-tons of rock and debris for more than two years to get SUE ready for display! Since then, scientists continue to clean and prepare other fossils in the laboratory, and have enjoyed watching them work each time I visit.
SUE greets visitors standing in the Museum’s Stanley Field Hall. Nearby is the 27,000-square-foot exhibition, Evolving Planet, which amazed me the first time I saw it and then on successive visits as well.  Completed in 2006, I can understand why it is considered to be one of the world’s most engaging and thorough exhibitions about the four-billion-year history of life on Earth.  This also has a section showing extinct species.

"Here's looking at you" from "RoboSUE" exhibit

In the ten years that SUE has been in place, ten new discoveries about dinosaurs and other prehistoric creatures were made by Field Museum paleontologists and researchers.

Be a part of this unique opprtunity to celebrate SUE's 10th birthday. 

For more information about The Field Museum and SUE, visit fieldmuseum.org

Tickets to all SUE experiences are included in The Field Museum’s All Access Pass and cost $29 for adults, $24 for seniors/students, and $20 for children ages 3-11.  Discounts are available for Chicago residents. Visit fieldmuseum.org or call 866.FIELD.03. Special rates are available for tour operators and groups of 15 or more. Call our Group Sales office toll-free at 888.FIELD.85 (888.343.5385).

SUE-per Awesome Birthday Party Package-[email protected] or call:312.665.7300

Photos: B. Keer

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