Chicago Ideas Q&A: The Field Museum’s SUE

It isn’t often that SUE—the rockstar T. rex who currently calls The Field Museum home—has time for a sit-down (or, in her case, stand-up) interview.  The South Dakota-native spends her days educating Chicago’s children, tweeting and keeping up with the latest in Chicago sports.  But in advance of the #IdeasChat on June 17 at 11 a.m. CST, SUE graciously fit us into her schedule for a discussion of lifeand workas a 67-million-year-old dinosaur.
SUE enjoys her home at The Field Museum, noting “you’d be hard pressed to find a cushier
collection” than the one at Chicago’s natural history museum.
SUE, first of all, we just want to say that all of us here at Chicago Ideas are big fans. We’ve invited a president, an astronaut and an NBA All-Star to use our stage as a platform for sharing ideas, but you are the first dinosaur we’ve had the pleasure of meeting. Thanks for agreeing to this interview and for participating in tomorrow’s #IdeasChat. And maybe one day we’ll see you at Ideas Week in October!
OK, let’s get right into it: Tell us about your childhood. What was it like growing up as a T. rex 67 million years ago in what is now the Badlands of South Dakota?
In a word: rough.  I’ll save you my medical history, but life in the Late Cretaceous wasn’t nice. Broken ribs. Infections. Torn tendons. And it’s not like sports where I’d miss some games. If a predator can’t hunt, a predator can’t eat. But I’m estimated to be the oldest T. rex ever discovered, so I think it’s safe to say I could handle myself.
There aren’t many dinosaurs with names like yours. Can you tell us a little about how you got your name?
Oh, you’re too kind. I was actually discovered by fossil hunter and archeologist Susan Hendrickson while her team was changing a tire. She went out for a walk with her dog Skywalker, when she noticed bones from my vertebrae in a rock outcropping. And for her discovery, I am forever grateful. 
Despite “SUE” being considered a “girls'” name [editor’s note: or is it?], scientists have different theories if I was male or female. I’m just happy to be named after one of my favorite humans. Oh, and by the way, my name is spelled “SUE” in all caps, and pronounced as if you’re being pursued by a 42-foot long theropod with over a ton of bite pressure.
Your mission is to educate children and adults alike, from your work at The Field

SUE interacts with hundreds of fans on a day-to-day basis.

Museum to your participation in educational campaigns like Emily Graslie’s #notadinosaur, which debunks the myth that all ancient reptile-like animals were dinosaurs. Talk about why you think it’s important for you to work at a museum like The Field Museum and continue to educate all of us, instead of retiring to Florida or heading to a cushier private collection.

Well, you’d be hard pressed to find a cushier collection than the one here at The Field Museum. The public sees only about one percent of our collection, and it represents only the tip of the iceberg of the kind of scientific research being conducted here and in the field. With over 25 million artifacts, including l’il ol’ me, we represent a critical resource for scientific research worldwide. Ask me about the time scientists, the Chicago Police Department and Loyola Medical Center put me through a CT scanner!

And thanks for giving my pal (and fellow South Dakotan) Emily a shout-out. I waited patiently for 67 million years to be found, but I always get antsy for the next episode of The Brain Scoop to drop.

Talking about all the work you dowe didn’t even mention the fact that microbes from your bones were recently launched into space for study on the International Space Station. What does it feel like to have a part of you in space?
For too long, dinosaurs have cowered from things from space. But finally, a little part of me is taking the fight to the meteor! Have you heard that space rocks!?!?

You have a hilarious and informational Twitter presence, you follow Chicago sports and you hobnob with Chicagoans and Field Museum visitors of all ages on a daily basis (just search #selfieswithsue to see how many people are fans of SUE!). Yet, you’re 67 million years old. So, what is it like navigating the 21st Century as a dino? How do you keep up with all of the new technologies?
Well, I’m extinct, so my disposable/edible legion of social media interns help. Also, it’s hard, but not impossible to tweet from my Nokia 3310 (the only phone that could survive the KT Event).

Not to harp on your age—again!—but why do you think children are so fascinated by you? What is it about dinosaurs—and you, a 67-million-year-old T. rex, in particular—that kids love so much?
And as a 67-million-year-old, all you tiny mammals are “kids” to me. But I think it has something to do with not everything from my time being totally understood, so it leaves some room for the imagination.

Also, Dino Train? Barney? Is that improperly postured T. rex still “a thing”?

What should we anticipate talking about with you in our upcoming #IdeasChat this Tuesday, June 17 at 11 a.m. CDT?
Looking forward to the usual topics: Dinosaurs, meat, science, the awesomeness of museums, the crumminess of Velociraptors…that kind of stuff. We’ll laugh. We’ll love. We’ll maybe learn a little something about ourselves.
Finally, we know you root for the Blackhawks and the Bears. But all of Chicago wants to know: Cubs or Sox?
I get them confused…which one is accessible by the Red Line again?
Q&As are edited for clarity and length.

Erin Robertson is managing editor at Chicago Ideas.

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