Penn's SUMR Scholars at The Mutter Museum


Penn's SUMR Scholars at The Mutter Museum

Photography by Hoag Levins
(Published with permission, College of Physicians)

Penn's Summer Undergraduate Minority Research (SUMR) scholars joined with the Karabots Junior Fellows of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia for an afternoon tour of the famed Mutter Museum. The last field trip of the 2013 SUMR program took the scholars through one of the country's largest and most unique collections of 19th-century medical oddities and human deformities -- some of them astoundingly strange.

A Collection of Medical Oddities

Thousands of the Mutter collection's core anatomical and pathological specimens were originally gathered by Thomas Dent Mutter, a professor of medicine at the Thomas Jefferson University and a pioneer in the field reconstructive surgery in the first half of the 19th century. A year before his death in 1859, he donated his collection to the College of Physicians.  The original purpose of the collection was to provide real-life references and teaching materials for medical professionals involved in the treatment of human deformities, severe burns and horrifically mutilating injuries.

SUMR and Karabot Group Portrait

The 2013 Penn SUMR scholars and Karabot Junior Fellows gather on the main stairwell in the College of Physicians building which also houses the Mutter Museum. Both student programs are academic pipeline efforts designed to engage students from underrepresented minorities in health care-related studies and career choices. Penn's SUMR is focused on university undergraduates; Karabots on high school students.

Anatomical Odd Couple

On the ground floor of the two-story Mutter, Penn SUMR scholars Matthew Herling and Tara Fernandez and SUMR Program Director Joanne Levy listen to a Karabots Junior Fellow explain the display. The glass case contains the tallest human skeleton in North America -- a seven-foot, six-inch male -- paired with the skeleton of a three-foot, six-inch dwarf.

Hytrl Skull Collection

In front of the Hyrtl Skull Collection are Penn SUMR Scholar Julio Albarracin, Penn; a Karabots guide; SUMR scholars Alisha Jordan, Yale; Christina Nguyen, Harvard; and Nadia Ogene, Penn. Assembled by Dr. Joseph Hyrtl in the early 1800s, the 139-skull collection largely consists of the heads of central and eastern European males who committed suicide or were executed as criminals.

Conjoined Babies

SUMR Scholar Matthew Herling at a display of conjoined babies perserved in jars of formaldehyde.

9-Foot Colon

Gathered around one of the museum's strangest displays are SUMR Scholars (left to right) Neel Koyawala, Penn; Pearl Eni, University of Pittsburgh; Maximilian Peny, Swarthmore; Karlos Bledsoe, Princeton; Taehoon Kim, Penn; and a Karabots guide. They are looking at a nine-foot human colon that contained 40 pounds of fecal matter when removed from an enormously obese 19th-century circus sideshow performer.

Fetal Deformities

SUMR Scholars Nadia Ogene and Alisha Jordan view a display of real skeletons and plaster models that show fetal developmental progression and congenital deformities.

Discussing the Displays

Discussing the displays are (black sweater) a Karabots guide; SUMR Scholar Karole Collier, Bernard College; Safa Browne, LDI Research Coordinator; SUMR Scholar Rose Aka, St. John's University; and (pink jacket) Shanae Johnson, SUMR Program Coordinator.

Siamese Twins

With their backs to a plaster model display of the famed joined twins Chang and Eng Bunker are SUMR Scholars Jessica Reyes, Darmouth; Karole Collier, Dartmouth; and Rose Aka, St. Johns. Born in Siam in 1811 and exhibited at entertainment venues in the U.S. and Europe for thirty years, the Bunker brothers coined the term "Siamese Twins."

Karabots Guide

A Karabot guide mans the birth defects display with note cards from her own research on the history and meaning of the displays. The College of Physicians' Karabots program is a three-year curriculum aimed at immersing Philadelphia high school students in hands-on health care-related science.

Childhood Deformities

Gathered around a display on childhood deformities are (standing) Karlos Bledsoe, Maximilian Peny, (kneeling) Taehoon Kim and Pearl Eni.

On the Tour

On the tour are SUMR Scholars Karlos Bledsoe, Pearl Eni and Neel Koyawala.

Discussions and Networking

After the museum tour, the SUMR and Karabots groups meet together for snacks and discussions in one of the College of Physician's meeting rooms.

Snacks and Camaraderie

Left to right, SUMR Scholar Julio Albarracin, a Karabots Fellow, SUMR Scholar Christina Nguyen, and SUMR Scholar Maximilian Peny.

Main Lecture Hall

Founded in 1787, the College of Physicians of Philadelphia is the country's oldest professional medical organization. Today it remains a vibrant professional society with nearly 1,500 elected Fellows. It's facilities in downtown Philadelphia include the Mutter Museum, a medical library dedicated to the history of medicine, educational and meeting rooms and this, it's main lecture hall. It's palatial building is modeled on that of London's College of Physicians, which dates to the 1600s. The college enjoys many direct connections with the University of Pennsylvania. For instance, a special ticket provides admission to both the Mutter Museum and the Penn Museum.