SUE the T. rex to get scientific updates and her own new gallery
Next year, in celebration of The Field Museum’s 125th anniversary, SUE’s getting a makeover, and a touchable cast of the biggest dinosaur ever discovered will join the Museum’s ranks, thanks to a $16.5 million gift from the Kenneth C. Griffin Charitable Fund, one of the largest private contributions ever to a Chicago museum.
“The Field Museum’s never-ending goal is to offer the best possible dinosaur experiences. Ken Griffin’s long-time support is a major step forward in achieving that goal,” says Field Museum President Richard Lariviere. “With this extraordinary gift from Ken, we’ll be able to create a more scientifically accurate and engaging home for SUE the T. rex and welcome the world’s largest dinosaur to the Field.”
The new dinosaur is a cast made from the fossil bones of Patagotitan mayorum (pat-uh-go-tie-tan my-or-um), a giant, long-necked herbivore from Argentina that’s part of a group of dinosaurs called titanosaurs. From snout to tail, it stretches 122 feet long, longer than two accordion CTA buses end-to-end. It’s so tall that visitors on the Museum’s second-floor balcony will be eye-to-eye with the creature, which will be situated near the elephants in the Museum’s iconic white limestone Stanley Field Hall. Visitors will be able to touch the titanosaur cast and walk underneath it.
“The titanosaur is huge, and it’ll look right at home in Stanley Field Hall,” said Senior Exhibitions Project Manager Hilary Hansen. “It’s a big, majestic space, which will be the perfect backdrop for the world’s largest dinosaur.” The Stanley Field Hall cast will be the only Patagotitan in the world that visitors are able to touch and only the second to ever be on display.
Meanwhile, SUE the T. rex will be revamped with scientific updates and will move on up from Stanley Field Hall to the Museum’s most popular permanent exhibition, The Griffin Halls of Evolving Planet. The exhibition, which traces life from its origins to today, is home to a legion of dinosaurs ranging from tiny, birdlike Buitreraptor to 72-foot long Apatosaurus. A whole new gallery will be added to the dinosaur section of Evolving Planet to showcase SUE and tell the story of her life on Earth. The new exhibition space, which will span around 5,800 square feet, is expected to feature cutting-edge multimedia technology, digital interactives, and fossils discovered alongside SUE that illustrate the world she lived in—all in all, says Hansen, a state-of-the-art experience worthy of SUE.
“At 40.5 feet long, she’s the world’s biggest T. rex, but in that giant hall, people sometimes remark that she’s smaller than they expected,” explains Hansen. “By putting her in her own gallery in our Evolving Planet exhibition, she’ll be put into the proper context of her fellow dinosaurs, and she’ll dominate the room.”
“In addition to getting a new space that showcases what an amazing specimen SUE is, we’ll also be able to update the mount to reflect what we’ve learned about tyrannosaurs in the years since we first put her on display,” says Associate Curator of Dinosaurs Pete Makovicky. “It gives us a chance to tell a more complete story scientifically.”
The most dramatic scientific change to SUE will be the addition of her gastralia—a set of bones that look like an additional set of ribs stretched across her belly. Gastralia are rarely preserved in tyrannosaurs, and scientists weren’t quite sure how to position them when SUE’s skeleton was first mounted in 2000. In the years since, research on SUE’s gastralia has illuminated their function and placement.
Gastralia are also present in ancient crocodile relatives and likely originally developed as a means of defense—the network of bone protected the animals’ vulnerable bellies. But for the dinosaurs, they probably had a different purpose: facilitating breathing. Dinosaurs, like their modern bird relatives, had lungs comprised of an intricate network of airsacs. And instead of having a muscular diaphragm to help push air in and out of their lungs like we do, they used the structural support provided by their gastralia to get the job done.
The addition of SUE’s gastralia will change her look. “T. rex had a bulging belly—it wasn’t sleek and gazelle-like the way you might think from looking at SUE now without her gastralia,” explains Makovicky. “We’ll also update her body stance, so she’ll be walking rather than skulking, her arms will come down a little, and we’ll readjust her wishbone.”
SUE will come down from her current mount in February 2018, and she’ll be unveiled in her new home in the spring of 2019. The titanosaur will go up in less than a month next spring and will be on view starting in late spring 2018. Along with the cast of the titanosaur skeleton, there will also be some of its real bones on display, including an 8-foot-long thighbone.
SUE’s renovation and the titanosaur’s arrival are possible thanks to the continued support of Ken Griffin, whose gift of $16.5 million to create ground-breaking new dinosaur exhibitions and update Stanley Field Hall is helping take the Museum’s world-class dinosaur experiences to the next level. Griffin, the founder and CEO of Citadel, set a new standard for the Field’s exhibitions in 2006 with his support for Evolving Planet and is providing funding for the 2018 exhibition Antarctic Dinosaurs, accompanying dinosaur education programs, and updates to Evolving Planet. “The Field Museum has a huge impact on our ability to understand and appreciate dinosaurs. I’m thrilled to partner with such an extraordinary institution to help put natural wonders like SUE and the titanosaur on display for the city of Chicago and its visitors,” says Griffin.
And while it might be hard to imagine Stanley Field Hall without SUE, long-time Field Museum paleontologist and Head of Geological Collections Bill Simpson notes that the hall has always been a dynamic, ever-changing space. “I’ve worked at the Field since 1979, and I’ve seen Stanley Field Hall undergo a lot of changes in that time,” says Simpson. “When I started, we had a tyrannosaur in Stanley Field Hall, the Daspletosaurus that’s now in Evolving Planet. In the mid-nineties, we replaced it with the Brachiosaurus cast that’s now on the terrace outside the Museum, and in 2000 we welcomed SUE. There’s always a lot of change in that space as we find new ways to share our science with the public.” Plus, he adds, while SUE’s new, bulkier appearance might take some getting used to, “That’s the way science works—we’re always making new discoveries.”
When asked to comment on her upcoming move and renovation, SUE (reachable on Twitter @SUEtheTrex) wrote, “For years now, I've been pitching this to the Museum. A room with a better defensible position against velociraptor attacks and reduced exposure to possible meteorite collisions. Finally, the mammals in charge have come to their senses."