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cricket

Feel like a bug on the 'Underground Adventure'


The Field Museum: Underground Adventure
Chicago
Permanent exhibit opened March 27

(CNN) -- If you've ever walked in someone else's shoes, you know that perspective is everything. Spend the day doing the things that others do and you will walk away with new realizations.

Especially if that someone else is a worm.

In the tradition of the movie "Honey I Shrunk the Kids," the Field Museum in Chicago has created "Underground Adventure," an 15,000-square-foot exhibit that gives humans an opportunity to shrink down to the size of a bug -- or at least feel like they have.

The exhibit, a gigantic re-creation of tunnels created by an earthworm, is built to make visitors feel 1/100 their normal size, giving them a tour of the underground life that teems just below the Earth's surface.

Visitors enter the $10-million exhibit, and spend time in "the shrinking chamber" -- flashing lights, mirrors, a voice that says "Shrinking is almost complete" -- before they step into the "Underground Adventure."

"One of the first things you see is a penny that is taller than you are, to really emphasize how small you are," says Francie Muraski-Stotz, manager of exhibit development at the museum. She says the "adventure" has been in development for four years, under construction for almost two.

As visitors wind through the worm tunnels, they will stumble across animatronic critters (mole cricket, crayfish, earwigs) up to 11 feet high.

"The organisms are modeled from actual specimens," Muraski-Stotz says. "It's a really acccurate environment, giving the best view of what it would look like at this size."

Visitors also take part in scientific tasks (investigating root tips, tracking moles), and discover the delicate ecosystem that we often take for granted, but which produces the everyday necessities of life.

"One of our most important connections to soil is food," Muraski-Stotz says. "Almost all our food is grown in soil. We look at farming from all around the world.

"Soil also gives us medicine. For instance, antibiotics like penicillin come from soil fungus."

The exhibit even includes the smells of underground, for those who wish to take a whiff.

"I think most people remember the smell of soil from childhood," Muraski-Stotz says. The smell is "kind of a mixture of things," she says.

Computer stations, meanwhile, allow visitors to try to solve modern soil challenges, including the managing of a 1,100-acre farm.

In other words, the exhibit is designed to give visitors a new perspective on the ground they walk on.

"People never even think about it," Muraski-Stotz says. "The most important thing I want visitors to get out of is an appreciation of soil. We want them to look at it in a new way. We want them to think it's more important than they ever thought."

"Underground Adventure" is a new permanent exhibit at the Field Museum in Chicago. Admission to the "Adventure" costs, in addition to museum admission, $4 for adults, $3 for seniors, $2 for ages 3-17, students, teachers and military personnel. General admission is free on Wednesdays. (312) 922-9410.

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