A T. Rex Named Sue

May 17–September 7, 2014 No dinosaur in the world compares to SUE—the largest, most complete, and best preserved Tyrannosaurus rex ever discovered.

 A T. rex Named Sue brings the story of the largest, most complete, and best-preserved T. rex to life in a visceral experience combining visual, tactile, audible, and aromatic activities with compelling educational content.

Sue was a Tyrannosaurus rex that roamed North America about 67 million years ago, one of the last dinosaur species and one of the largest flesh-eaters ever to have inhabited the Earth. The “tyrant lizard king,” with its extraordinarily powerful jaws and massive serrated steak-knife teeth, still dominates popular perceptions of the Age of Dinosaurs.

SUE's Discovery 

The story of SUE's discovery begins in the summer of 1990. At the time, fossil hunter Sue Hendrickson was working at a dig site near Faith, South Dakota, with a commercial fossil-collecting team from the Black Hills Institute.

Early on the morning of August 12, the team discovered that one of their trucks had a flat tire, so they headed to town for repairs. Sue elected to stay behind, and instead, she hiked out to an eroding bluff she’d noticed several days earlier.

Within minutes, she spied some bone fragments that had rolled down the incline. Looking up, she spotted several vertebrae (backbones) sticking out of the bluff face.

Sue immediately identified them as the bones of a large carnivorous dinosaur and suspected that they might be from a Tyrannosaurus rex. When the team returned, they confirmed her find and promptly named it "SUE" in her honor.

Shortly after its discovery, the fossil became the center of an intense ownership dispute. A protracted court battle ensued, and the court ruled that Sue belonged to the rancher on whose land she was discovered. The rancher decided to sell Sue at public auction.

To ensure that Sue would be preserved for future generations of scientists and visitors, The Field Museum in Chicago purchased Sue for $8.4 million at auction in 1997. After spending more than 30,000 hours preparing the more than 250 bones and teeth in Sue’s skeleton, The Field Museum made exact, fully articulated replicas so that people around the world would have the opportunity to view and study Sue.

Previously, only a handful of partial T. rex specimens had been found, none more than 60% complete. At 90% complete and exquisitely preserved, Sue is the most celebrated example of its species, permitting more detailed studies of the biology, growth, and behavior of a T. rex than previously possible. 


Exhibition Overview

A T. rex Named Sue brings the story of the largest, most complete, and best-preserved T. rex to life in a visceral experience that combines visual, tactile, audible, and aromatic activities with compelling educational content. Visitors of all ages will marvel at Sue’s size and ferocity while learning about her scientific importance through engaging interactives.

Exhibit elements:
1)  Sue’s Skeleton
The centerpiece of A T. rex Named Sue is a fully articulated cast skeleton of Sue mounted on a stage, with a graphic backdrop, and a reading rail around the stage engages visitors with:

  • touchable casts of Sue’s arm bone, tail bone, and rib;
  • interactive activities that let visitors interpret surface features and anomalies of Sue’s bones;
  • interpretive graphics and text that relate the stories of Sue’s history, from discovery to display, and incorporate actual headlines, news articles, and behind-the-scenes photos taken at The Field Museum. 

2)  Sue’s Skull
Visitors first encounter an enticing shadow of Sue’s skull moving across a scrim. On the other side, visitors can get an eye-to-eye look at a cast of Sue’s skull, a whopping 5 feet in length, that rotates and growls. Rail-mounted elements surrounding the skull include:

  • touchable models of Sue’s teeth;
  • an interactive activity that lets visitors diagnose a pathology in Sue’s jawbone;
  • graphics and text that describe the story of Sue’s skull from discovery to display;
  • the legal dispute over Sue’s bones and how it led to Sue’s purchase at auction;
  • the process of making the casts from the fossilized bones. 

3)  Interactives
Visitor-controlled mechanical models and interactive pods encourage visitors to explore in- depth topics related to Sue, T. rex, and dinosaur science:

  • Fossil Fragments Interactive: Study two sets of bones to identify the bones that belonged to a T. rex.
  • Sight Interactive: Step up to dino-view devices to take a peek into the Cretaceous world through the eyes of a T. rex and a Triceratops. Understand important differences between monocular and binocular vision.
  • Smell Interactive: Sue probably had a keen sense of smell. Test your nose to find food, water, and shelter.
  • Completeness Interactive: Use spare parts from a “bone bank” in a large-format 3D puzzle of Sue’s skeleton to demonstrate Sue’s completeness.
  • Forelimb Interactive: Sue’s arms worked much like human arms do. Use an apparatus to feel how scientists think Sue could and couldn’t move her arms.
  • Jaw Muscles Interactive: Manipulate a model of Sue’s jaws to demonstrate how Sue’s gigantic jaw muscles slammed shut on prey.
  • Feeding Method Interactive: Scientists think that Sue didn’t chew. Find out how she probably ate.
  • Stiff Tail Interactive: Manipulate a model of Sue’s strong, stiff tail to discover how Sue used it to help stay balanced.
  • Posture Interactive: Sue’s neck also helped keep Sue’s body in balance. Feel how a T. rex head, tail, and s-shaped neck worked together to help Sue move and stay upright.
  • Fact and Theory Interactive: Sort out the difference between dino-science and dino-speculation by examining clues about dinosaurs. 

4) Two Videos (encased in free-standing pods with graphics)

  • An entertaining video incorporates a variety of pop-culture images and a short animation sequence to show how our perceptions of T. rex have changed over time as scientists have made new discoveries.
  • A documentary-style video shows how scientists at The Field Museum obtained CT images of Sue’s skull and how these high tech scans have helped researchers learn more about what was inside Sue’s head. 

This exhibit was created by The Field Museum, Chicago, and made possible through the generosity of McDonald’s Corporation. ©2014 McDonald’s



Local sponsorship provided by:

Geokon    King Arthur Flour    Lake Sunapee Bank    NHPR    WCAX