Nightly News   |  April 10, 2013

Engineering a solution for penguins’ aching feet

A collaborative program between Northwestern and the Shedd Aquarium in Chicago is helping improve quality of life for zoo animals. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> we leave you tonight with a story from the world famous shedd aquarium in chicago where they were having a problem with some beloved local occupants you see there while they turned to some talented local students. tonight it's all well because smart kids have come to the rescue of these animals. our report tonight from nbc's kevin tibbles.

>> reporter: if you were a penguin at chicago shedd aquarium , you'd shout, too. after all, life is good. but even these pampered penguins occasionally have the wind taken out of their waddle.

>> as our birds age and get older, they get sore feet like we do.

>> reporter: they had a web-footed conundrum.

>> they had a penguin problem.

>> reporter: the shedd partnered with the brilliant engineering students at northwestern university .

>> my reaction was like, what? this is not engineering. this is arts and crafts .

>> reporter: but it is engineering, and they invented little waterproof form-fitting penguin boots to help those aching feet.

>> we actually designed something similar to a bandage, like a band-aid for a penguin .

>> reporter: it worked. on this day penguin number 405 after a little spraydown -- -- gets to model the invention on the poolside walkway.

>> it was so perfect and we looked at each other and said now why didn't we think of that.

>> reporter: the collaborative program with the shedd began eight years ago as part of northwestern's freshmen design, thinking and communication class.

>> to have the opportunity to work an a project that's going to touch something that they never thought of doing in engineering, to work with fish as opposed to building a building.

>> reporter: this unique collaboration has resulted in several innovations, like a system that delivers anesthesia to fish undergoing procedures, and even a tiny decompression chamber to treat ailing sea horses.

>> taking engineering principles and applying them to a real life need that the shedd aquarium had.

>> reporter: all the perfect combination of deep thought and deep sea . back by the penguin pool, penguin 405 who, by the way, is quite coquettish, loves all the attention, especially when at the end of the day , she can put her feet up and nibble on raw fish . kevin tibbles, nbc news, chicago .