Shedd Penguins Receive Engineered Footwear

Freshmen at Northwestern create shoes for penguins with sore feet

Local engineering students are taking comfortable footwear to a new level for Chicago's fine-feathered set.

Freshman Northwestern students created a kind of shoe for penguins at the Shedd Aquarium with sore feet. The shoe, aptly called the Tuxedo, is made to comfortably fit a penguin's feet and mend wounds caused by standing on a rough surface for a long time.

Penguins over time get bruises from the surface and develop a condition known as bumblefoot. Employees at the Shedd looking to solve the problem first tried a sand-like shoe but it left the penguins limping and tripping as they waddled.

So Shedd Vice President Bill Van Bonn turned to the engineering students of a McCormick course to help solve the problem. 

"It is easy to say, 'We need shoes to protect their feet.' What they really needed was to protect the sore part of the foot," said Stacy Benjamin, senior lecturer with Northwestern's Segal Design Institute. "The students learned that if you force yourself to think broadly and dive down to the root causes and issues, sometimes you end up redefining the problem."

They developed a bandage made from purple kinesiology tape with a neoprene foam, making the Tuxedo flexible and waterproof while protecting the penguins while they swim, walk and stand.

The penguin booties are just one of the products McCormick students have provided for the Shedd. Upper Level students have developed innovations such as a machine that can electronically deliver anesthesia to a fish, a decompression chamber for sea horses and a device called the “endo-grabber”, which is used to remove foreign objects from an animal’s stomach, such as pebbles.

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