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Student-Designed Sea Otter Maze Featured on BTN LiveBIG

Big Ten Network highlights Segal Design Institute project for Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium


Sea otters are energetic and love to play, so goal-driven playtime is important to keep them sharp and happy.

As part of a partnership with Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium, students in the Segal Design Institute were tasked with creating an enrichment experience that would do just that.

The result was a maze-like, Plexiglas puzzle that fits into the window opening between the otters’ pool and the trainers’ area. When a trainer tosses in a special hollow ball stuffed with shrimp, the otter learns to slide the ball down the various levels to an opening at the bottom.

“Otters are always investigating, they’re always playing, they always have their brain on,” said Matthew Crocker, a senior studying mechanical engineering in Northwestern’s McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science. “We found a way to bring that up to the window so that it could be shown off.”

Previous products developed for the Shedd include protective booties for penguin feet, a decompression machine designed for sea horses, and a fish anesthesia system for medical examinations. 

Learn more about the Northwestern-Shedd Partnership.