TODAY   |  April 02, 2013

Penguins get custom boots to ease achy feet

Just like humans, as the penguins at Chicago’s Shedd Aquarium get older, they begin to suffer from aches and pains. Searching for a solution, the aquarium has developed a unique partnership with engineering students at Northwestern University. NBC’s Kevin Tibbles reports.

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

>> get older they get sore feet like we do.

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

>> they had a penguin problem.

>> reporter: to treat the painful pengo pods 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 designed something similar to a bandage like a band-aid for a penguin .

>> reporter: it works, on this day penguin number 405 after a little spray-down gets to model the invention on the poolside runway.

>> it was so simple and so perfect, we looked at each other and said why didn't we think of that?

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

>> to have the opportunity to work on 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 partnership has resulted in several innovations that help both the animals and the shedd 's team of animal care experts.

>> in the end everything in engineering i think boils down to problem solving .

>> reporter: even if the problem involves designing an easy to use system to deliver waterbound medications to fish.

>> how many people can say they worked on a fish anesthetic delivery system. i can tell you it's about four.

>> reporter: how about this request?

>> we'd like to you build us a small hyperbaric chamber this big for seahorses.

>> reporter: that's right a tiny decompression chamber that helps sea horses remove air bubbles from under their skin.

>> then the sea horses can naturally expel the bubbles.

>> reporter: burp and feel better.

>> right.

>> 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 . for "today," kevin tibbles, nbc news, chicago.

>> don't worry, kevin , we'll never show you the footage again.

>> you'll never live that waddle down.

>> when you thought it was scarce for the christmas reel, kevin waddles like a penguin .

>> he has his waddle.

>> necessity is the mother of invention, how about that, smart kids coming up with that, young people .

>> oh the kids, oh the young people .

>> penguin and sea horse grievances all addressed, go on with your day, america.