Portrait of a Fellow: Nathan Francis Mossell

Greetings, internet aficionados of medical history. Today, we are happy to welcome another guest author to the MütterEDU blog. Mütter Museum docent Izza Choudhry is here to offer a profile of a notable Fellow of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia: Nathan Francis Mossell. Dr. Mossell was an accomplished physician and civil rights advocate whose portrait appears outside Ashhurst Hall on the second floor of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. Izza is here to offer insights into his life.

The floor is yours, Izza!

College of Physicians staff pose in front of the portrait of Dr. Nathan Francis Mossell

Nathan Francis Mossell (1856-1946) was the first African American to graduate from the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. He established the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital and Training School, which was the first African American hospital in Philadelphia. In addition to being the first African American member of the Philadelphia County Medical Society, Mossell was the co-founder of the Philadelphia Academy of Medicine and Allied Sciences, an organization for African Americans in medicine, and the National Medical Association.

Nathan Francis Mossell was born on July 27, 1856, in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada. Both of Mossell’s parents, Eliza Bowers and Aaron Albert Mossell, were children of freed slaves. Growing up hearing stories of slavery truly impacted Mossell’s perception of life. In his autobiography, he stated that his mother’s stories of the unjust discrimination that their family faced motivated him to succeed, “Mother inspired us toward high aspirations by stories of how our grandparents overcame obstacles.”

One of the first memories Mossell describes in his autobiography is how many times his mother would tell the story of how her father was freed as as young man. His grandfather was deemed useless by his master because of how viciously he resisted his enslavement. Mossell’s grandfather told his master that he would not work for him because he did not believe slavery was justifiable. Mossell’s grandfather’s persistent resistance towards his master caused his master to give up any attempts of controlling him, and he simply freed him. After gaining his freedom, he settled down in Baltimore, Maryland.

Mossell’s paternal grandfather, initially transported to the United States from the West African Coast, bought his and his wife’s freedom from his master. They settled in Baltimore, where Mossell’s father was born.

When Mossell’s mother was a child, she and her family, along with many other free African Americans, were deported from Baltimore to Trinidad. After they returned to Baltimore, she met Mossell’s father. Mossell’s father worked as a brickmaker, which helped him earn enough money to buy a house. After the birth of their third child, the couple decided to move to Canada, since free African Americans were prohibited from receiving an education in Maryland, and they wanted to provide their children with better opportunities.

During the Civil War, Mossell and his family moved to Lockport, New York, where Mossell spent the remainder of his childhood. In Lockport, Mossell’s father maintained his brickmaking business. At the time, Mossell and his five siblings were the only African American children attending public schools in Lockport.

In the late 1860s, brickyard revenues began to decline, and the Mossells were only able to send their oldest son to college. Mossell had worked at the brickyard since he was nine years old and only attended school sporadically. At fourteen years old, after the death of his second-oldest brother, he started working at the brickyard full-time in order to help his father.

When Mossell was fifteen, his family was finally able to fund his education. In 1871, he enrolled in Lincoln University’s high school preparatory program, where he completed the four-year curriculum in only three years. In 1879, he graduated from Lincoln University with a Bachelor of Arts degree with second honors in his graduating class. He was also awarded the Bradley Medal in natural science.

Nathan Francis Mossell in 1882. Image Source: University of Pennsylvania Archives

Nathan Francis Mossell in 1882. Image Source: University of Pennsylvania Archives

After completing his undergraduate studies, Mossell enrolled in the University of Pennsylvania Medical School, where became the the most prominent of the University of Pennsylvania Medical School’s first African American students, taking second honors in his graduating class.
During his medical career, Mossell noticed the continuing prevalence of racism and discrimination towards African Americans, especially the prejudice in most hospitals towards African American medical graduates. Due to this, Mossell completed an internship at St. Thomas and Queens College hospitals in London, England. He worked at St. Thomas Hospital for five years before returning to Philadelphia.

After his return to the United States, Mossell became the first African American physician elected to the Philadelphia County Medical Society. For over a decade, he practiced in predominantly white Philadelphia hospitals. In 1895 he established the Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital, the second African American hospital in the United States, to both provide care for the African American community in Philadelphia and to provide young African American physicians and nurses with the opportunity to gain experience working in hospitals. There, he worked as the chief of staff and medical director, until his retirement in 1933. He continued to privately practice medicine until his death in 1946.

In addition to a physician, Mossell was a strong political activist, especially for civil rights. During the 1880s and 1890s, Mossell was one of the first to encourage the hiring of African American professors at Lincoln University. He also worked with state representative Arthur Faucett to pass a bill banning the exclusion of African Americans from university housing at the University of Pennsylvania. Mossell was a founding member of the Niagara Movement, an organization established by W.E.B. du Bois in 1905 to publicly oppose the policies of Booker T. Washington. In 1910, Mossell became a founding member of the Philadelphia’s National Association for the Advancement of Colored People.

Two years after Mossell’s death, Frederick Douglass Memorial Hospital merged with Mercy Hospital, another African American hospital, to create Mercy Douglass Hospital. This facility continued to care for the African American community until its closure in 1973.

Thanks, Izza, for your insights into Dr. Mossell. If you are interested in learning more from our dedicated docents and volunteers, be sure to check out former docent Sarah Henry’s examination of eye color or a recent article from one of our Karabots Junior Fellows on NBA star Kyrie Irving’s knee injury. See you next time!

Sources:

http://www.archives.upenn.edu/primdocs/upf/upf1_9ar/mossell_nf/mossell_nf_autobio.pdf
http://www.blackpast.org/aah/mossell-nathan-francis-1856-1946
https://www.archives.upenn.edu/people/1800s/mossell_nathan_f.html
https://mutteredu.wordpress.com/2015/11/
https://www.pennmedicine.org/news/news-blog/2017/february/in-his-own-words-nathan-francis-mossell

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CPP Curiosities: Kyrie Irving’s Knee Injury

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Welcome to the third and final installment in a series of articles written by students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. Previous articles by our students covered nineteenth century mental health and the 1918 influenza pandemic. Today, we’re shifting away from medical history to some current affairs.

On April 8, 2018, the Boston Celtics announced star point guard Kyrie Irving would miss the remainder of the 2018 NBA season following a surgery on his surgically repaired knee. The loss of Irving, the nature of his injury, and his subsequent recovery were highly-publicized topics in the world of sports punditry, and today we’re offering our own hot take. Allow me to introduce Al Ly. Al is a student in the Karabots Program, who is combining his interest in sports medicine with his love of basketball to share his thoughts on Irving’s injury.

Al, the floor is yours!

Cleveland Cavaliers point guard Kyrie Irving goes for a layup against a defender.

Kyrie Irving in 2015 Photo Credit: Erik Drost (Flickr Commons)

During the 2015 NBA Finals, Kyrie Irving, point guard for the Cleveland Cavaliers, fractured his left knee. He underwent a surgical procedure where doctors implanted two screws to keep his kneecap in place. About 2 ½ years later, on March 24, 2018, Irving, traded to the Boston Celtics during free agency, had to undergo additional surgery. Doctors went to remove the tension wire in his left knee, but they noticed that there was an infection. The infection came from the screws he had implanted after the injury in 2015.

The knee is the largest joint in your body. It is made up of bones, cartilage, ligaments, and tendons. The three bones that form the knee joint are the femur, tibia, and patella. Tendons connect the knee bones to the leg muscles that move the knee joint. Three main ligaments provide stability to the knee. The anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) prevents the femur from sliding backwards to the tibia. The posterior cruciate ligament (PCL) prevents the femur from sliding forward to the tibia. The lateral collateral ligaments (LCL) prevents the femur from sliding side to side.

Anatomy of the knee, identifying the major parts of the knee

Anatomy of the Knee
Image Source: Bruce Blausen (Wikimedia Commons)

Your knee works like a door hinge. When you open and close a door hinge, it uses a threaded bolt secured by two nuts at the top and bottom of the hinge called acorn nuts. There is also a piece called a sleeve that protects the threaded bolt. Door plates are also part of the hinge with one connected to the door and the other to the wall. With a human knee, the threaded bolt is your knee and the sleeve is the muscle around the knee. The muscle around your knee is patella ligament and your quadriceps femoris tendon. The door plates are your bones that are around the knee, so every time you open or close a door, it’s like bending your knee. The knee is one of the easiest joints to receive an injury, especially for professional athletes who are running and jumping, and, in some sports, making full contact, on a regular basis.

When a person receives an injury like the one Irving suffered in 2015, doctors support the knee using tension wires and screws; Tension wires hold broken bones in position. When a person receives them, it can cause pain and stiffness and a sense the knee is not the same as it was before the injury. People with knee injuries go through physical therapy to regain movement and can take medication for the pain. Keeping the leg elevated will also reduce pain. In the case of Kyrie Irving, doctors discovered the wires in the Irving’s knee were causing him pain. This can happen if the wires are being knocked around, and he had been knocking them around on the court for 2 ½ years while diving for loose balls, colliding with other players, and falling to the ground.

Doctors successfully removed the two screws that had infected Irving’s knee. His season was over; however, his doctors cleared him to be healthy by training camp next season. It could have been much worse due to the infection. Osteomyelitis is an inflammation of the bone or bone marrow due to an infection caused by bacteria, mycobacteria, or fungi. It affects roughly one out of every 5,000 people. There are multiple ways to treat osteomyelitis, including antibiotics and a procedure where doctors remove unhealthy tissue. During treatment, doctors perform blood tests to monitor for signs of infection and to ensure that the treatment is effective, with follow-up visits roughly every two weeks. It usually takes 6 weeks to recover.

The areas of dead bone are hard to treat because it’s difficult for the body’s white blood cells to fight off the infection. Without adequate blood supply, some parts of the bone may die. According to Dr. Derek Ochiai, orthopedic surgeon at Nirschl Orthopedic Center in Arlington, VA, “We don’t know everything obviously, but when you have an infection with hardware, that has the potential to cede the bone. So the infection goes to the bone, which is called osteomyelitis. That can be really difficult to treat.” Left untreated, the infection could have led to swelling, fever, and life-threatening sepsis, a condition where harmful bacteria or toxins infect the bloodstream. It can also lead to fractures in the infected bone, stunted growth (in children), and gangrene. Gangrene is a condition that occurs when body tissue dies. It’s caused by loss of blood supply due to an underlying illness, injury, or infection. The most commonly affected areas are fingers, toes, and limbs. Gangrene can also occur inside your body and it damages your muscles and organs.

Depictions of gangrene's progress from an 1835 book Source: Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Depictions of gangrene’s progress from an 1835 book Source: Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

Irving’s surgery attracted a lot of attention from basketball fans and the sports press. In his first public comments following the announcement of Irving’s surgery Celtics head coach Brad Stevens said of Irving, “He’s really disappointed…Obviously, after the initial surgery, the thought was he’d be back in three to six weeks. We thought it would be closer to three than six, the way he was initially progressing. Just one of those things out of his control. But he’s bummed as you can imagine.” The Celtics thought he’d would be back in about a month, but they realized he had a bone infection in his left knee so it took longer than expected. Celtics fans were devastated to hear he would miss the rest of the 2017-2018 season, although the Celtics did manage to reach the Eastern Conference Finals, where they lost to the Cleveland Cavaliers (Irving’s former team).

Thanks, Al. Great job! If you are interested in learning more about medical history from our students, check out the links at the top of the article. Click here to learn more about the different youth programs the College of Physicians of Philadelphia has to offer.

As always, catch you on the strange side!

Sources:

Maloney, Jack. “Kyrie Irving’s knee injury and second story, explained by an orthopedic surgeon.” CBS Sports (April 10, 2018).

Weiss, Jared. “Brad Stevens explains Kyrie Irving bacterial infection knee surgery.” CelticsWire (April 6, 2018).

“What is Osteomyelitis?” Summit Medical Group.  

Zillgitt, Jeff. “Celtics star Kyrie Irving will have another knee surgery and miss the rest of the season.” USA Today (April 5, 2018).

 

CPP Curiosities: Influenza Virus

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Greetings and salutations, fellow historico-medico afficionados, and welcome to another installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular segment on the unusual and interesting aspects of medical history. Today’s issue is the second in a three-part series of guest articles written by students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. The KJF Program is a three-year after-school and summer internship for Philadelphia high school students from underserved communities who have an interest in careers in healthcare and medicine. These two wrote these articles as part of a two-week summer internship wherein they worked closely with staff in the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and conducted original research on a topic of their choice. This time around, Karabots Junior Fellow Cliford Louis is here to inform you about influenza.

The floor is yours, Clif!

Figure 1. “Preparing to Bury City’s Influenza Victims,” Scrapbook of newspaper clippings concerning the influenza epidemic in Philadelphia, 1918-1919.  Call no. Z10d 7.  Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

On March 11, 1918 at Fort Riley, Kansas,  a soldier reported a fever before breakfast and was later followed by other soldiers with the same complaints. By the end of that week, 500 soldiers were ill and being hospitalized. They were early victims of the infamous Spanish flu. An estimated  675,000 Americans died of influenza during the epidemic, more than all of the wars this century combined, and the disease killed millions worldwide during World War I. At first, scientists considered it a bacterial infection. Nowadays, scientists can confidently describe flu as a virus and explain what it does to the human body once they contain the strain of this virus. 

What is the flu …?

“The influenza virus is a member of the family [Orthomyxoviridae]” (Dehner 23), meaning that the flu is a group of RNA virus. There are three types of influenza: A, B, and C.

  • Type C is considered unimportant because it rarely causes infection.

  • Type B is mildly infectious, but it can cause epidemics.

  • Type A causes the greater threat to humanity; it attacks the respiratory system, and it is highly contagious. 

Figure 2”influenza virus,” Kathmandu Tribune, 12 October 2017. https://kathmandutribune.com/17-people-die-influenza-virus/

The influenza virus is a single stranded RNA virus and normally attacks the epithelial cell. Once the virus reaches the cell, it seizes it to develop new copies of the virus.

“Ultimately the influenza virus destroys any infected cell by destroying the outer layer. The daughter cells that infect adjoining epithelial cells quickly produce many millions of copies of the virus” (Dehner 24). 

This describes the effect of the virus inside of an infected person, and it shows why this epidemic was so deadly. Moreover, the explosive spread and large impact of the virus proves its immense dominance during the time of war. An infected person can transmit the virus to another person through the air by a cough or sneeze.

 

Figure 2 “Red Cross Ambulance Demonstration – Washington DC,” 1918 Historical Image Gallery from the Center For Disease Control And Prevention https://www.cdc.gov/flu/pandemic-resources/1918

Animals such as pigs, waterfowl, seals, horses and whales are considered sources containing the virus; they can catch and transmit the influenza virus to humans.

“Strategies of containment and eradication are impractical because the virus has unquantifiable opportunities for jumping from its natural host to other species, including humans” (Dehner 27).

“To be effective, any response to a pandemic strain must be quick enough to stay ahead of the rapidly transmissible influenza virus, consideration even more important in today’s increasingly interconnected world” (Dehner 196).

Figure 4. Image from “Is the flu shot safe during pregnancy,” The Bump. https://www.thebump.com/a/flu-shot-when-pregnanti

 

Even with current medicine and increasingly powerful technologies, the virus cannot be eliminated in the world; therefore, the CDC recommends yearly flu vaccines for everyone from six months old and older. Flu season is an important time in the world; the recommendation from doctors, nurses and other medical stuff to receive the flu shot is very vital in society. These vaccines creates antibodies, which helps to prevent viruses including the influenza. ‘Influenza pandemics are relatively rare events.’

 Previous history of influenza epidemics around the world over the past century can really help scientists finding a unique vital antidote to eradicate the flu. A lot has been learned about the influenza virus, but there is still plenty to be known and discovered to reach the stage of elimination for the virus.

Sources:

Dehner, George. Influenza A Century of Science and Public Health Response. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh  Press, 2012.

Thanks, Clif! Be sure to check back for our final guest article. Until next time, catch you on the strange side!

CPP Curiosities: Mental Health and “Moral Treatment”

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Greetings and salutations, fellow historico-medico afficionados, and welcome to another installment of CPP Curiosities, our semi-regular segment on the unusual and interesting aspects of medical history. Past articles have covered a variety of topics, from historic treatments for syphilis to the preservation of Lenin’s remains to the Greek and Roman god of medicine.

Today’s issue is the first in a three-part series of guest articles written by students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program. The KJF Program is a three-year after-school and summer internship for Philadelphia high school students from underserved communities who have an interest in careers in healthcare and medicine. These two wrote these articles as part of a two-week summer internship wherein they worked closely with staff in the Historical Medical Library of the College of Physicians of Philadelphia and conducted original research on a topic of their choice. First up is Yazmeen Robinson, who chose to research “moral treatment,” a 19th century mental health practice.

Take it away, Yazmeen!  –KI

Seven female patients in the "Insane Department" at Philadelphia General Hospital sit around a small table.

“Patients in insane department,” Philadelphia General Hospital Photograph Collection, Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia, box 2, photo no. 7

Psychiatric hospitals were built for those who were suffering from mental illness and could somehow recover from it. During the nineteenth-century in the United States, there were new European ideas about the treatment of people who were mentally ill. These ideas were called “moral treatment” which promised treatment for those with mental illness in an asylum. During the 19th century, they thought that by treating the patients more like children rather than an animal, patients would have a better chance at recovering. Treating the patients as individuals and helping them to gain control of themselves was very important. Moral treatment at the asylum was connected with occupational therapy, religion, and their community. Moral treatment usually didn’t include traditional treatments like physical restraints.

The moral treatment of the insane refused to associate with the disruptive behavior of mentally ill individuals. Some people with mental illness were too violent or disruptive to stay at their homes or in their communities. Some people with mental illness received treatment at home other than a hospital.

Friends Asylum was established by Philadelphia’s Quaker community in 1814, which was the first institute designed to perform the full program of moral treatment. The Friends Asylum wasn’t run by physicians. It was run by lay staff, which made it unique. Private hospitals were more available to wealthier families to care for their mentally ill family member.

At Taunton Hospital in Massachusetts, there was a lower story that was built and designed for patients that were uncontrollable or considered “filthy.” The Taunton Lunatic Asylum Casebook (1854-1868) has 240 entries with patients’ names, mental states, family histories, and financial status. These records contained information about patients’ profession, lineage, time in America, ships sailed on, and whether their taxes had been paid.

Page from Taunton Lunatic Asylum casebook (1854 - 1868), MSS 6/011, Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Page from Taunton Lunatic Asylum casebook (1854 – 1868), MSS 6/011, Historical Medical Library of The College of Physicians of Philadelphia.

Here are two patient records that I found interesting:

pg. 101:

Weigandt, Louis, 41, admitted April 3,1860, Boston
Hopeless and quiet
German in Boston, 12 years, wife lives at 70 Crystal Palace, Luicida St.
Mr. Nash reports Weigandt born in Germany, landed in New York how long ago unknown. Parents never in U.S.; Weigandt had lived mostly in Boston.
Wife Jane born in Marblehead, no doubt has a set[?] there
Is cousins with cashier of Marblehead Bank
Mr. Locke says wife [?] care of [?] Crystal Palace

pg. 96:

Copeland, John, 29, admitted Feburary 24, 1860 North Bedford
Doubtful and troublesome; now has been very [?]; fugitive slave; can go as far as health is concerned
Mr. Locke says [Copeland] born in Newburn, North Carolina
Feb 23rd 1863: He [Copeland] says does not know where he was born first found himself in Newburn. Then to Duplin County, there 4 years, came to Philadelphia in 1855 from Wilmington, thence to New York and Albany. 2 years in Albany, then to Wilton County, 9 months there, then to North Bedford, 2 months there. Send to Philadelphia.

Today there are only a few psychiatric hospitals that exist. Psychiatric care is now delivered through other services, such as crisis service. Doctors today gives patients psychiatric medications, such as, antidepressants, anti-anxiety medications, and mood-stabilizing medications, which help treat, but do not completely cure, mental illness. Depending on how severe the patient’s mental illness is, the treatment that will be given could be a mixed treatment. Today there is a treatment team that helps with a patient’s unique recovery plan, which includes educational programs, support groups, and counseling.

Thanks, Yazmeen! Be sure to check back, dear reader, for our second installment soon. Until next time. Catch you on the strange side!

CFE and WINS Youth Discuss Careers in STEM

Panelists speak to Philadelphia high school students at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia

In keeping with our commitment to introducing Philadelphia youth to the diverse science, technical, and medical careers available to them, students in our four youth programs–the Karabots Junior Fellows Program, the Teva Pharmaceuticals Internship, the Out4STEM Internship, and the Girls One Diaspora Club–gathered at the College of Physicians of Philadelphia with members of the Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) Program of the Academy of Natural Sciences. Together they met with a panel of outstanding women representing diverse fields in healthcare, medicine, and STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics). Joining the students were:

  • Maria Benedetto, PT, DPT, MA, PCS (CPP Fellow), Associate Clinical Professor, Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences Department, Drexel University
  • Joanna Chan, MD, Jefferson University Physician
  • Drisana Henry, MD, MPH, Adolescent Medical Fellow, Craig-Dalsimer Division of Adolescent Medicine, Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia
  • Katherine Lynch, MLS, Senior Developer, University of Pennsylvania Libraries
  • Loni Philip Tabb, PhD., Associate Professor, Epidemiology and Biostatistics, Drexel University

Moderated by Kevin Impellizeri, Youth Program Coordinator, the panelists shared their personal journeys toward their fields and provided advice for aspiring medical and technological professionals. They proved there is no one set path to any career, explaining challenges and diversions they faced along the way. They also offered frank advice on challenges facing women professionals such as sexism and workplace harassment. They also shared the ways they cope with stress and how they found ways to relax when things get stressful. Our students offered insightful questions and gained a greater understanding of different professional pathways. We are extremely grateful to all the panelists who offered their time and expertise to these aspiring future professionals.

Let Curiosity Set Sail at the Independence Seaport Museum

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program pilot a small submarine in a pool in the lobby of the Independence Seaport Museum

Did you know that during the 1940s, the Delaware River was so polluted, no organisms that relied on oxygen to survive could live in it? Or that Frederick Douglas escaped slavery by posing as a sailor? This was one of many surprising facts the students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program learned during a recent visit to the Independence Seaport Museum.

Founded in 1960 as the Philadelphia Maritime Museum, the Independence Seaport Museum seeks “to deepen the understanding, appreciation, and experience of the Philadelphia region’s waterways.” It carries out its mission through exhibits, interactive activities, and historic artifacts. Among the items in their diverse collection are tools, paper records, model ships, and two historic maritime vessels: the Cruiser Olympia and the submarine USS Becuna. Recently, the Karabots Junior Fellows visited the Seaport Museum to learn more about maritime history, ecology, and the unique impact Philadelphia’s waterways have influenced local, national, and international history.

Upon their arrival, the students broke into small groups and took part in a photo scavenger hunt designed to immerse them in the exhibits, activities, and artifacts the Seaport Museum has to offer. Among the museum’s offerings are Tides of Freedom: African Presence on the Delaware River, a frank depiction of the African American experience in Philadelphia relative to shipping, sea travel, and manufacturing; a recreation of the bridge of a US Navy destroyer, numerous model ships (some of which were built by inmates at Eastern State Penitentiary), and a traditional boat shop where volunteers still practice boat building.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program play a search and rescue game at the Independence Seaport Museum

After exploring the site on their own, the students took part in Ecology of the Delaware, a hands-on lesson aimed at teaching environmental history and the important role the Delaware River plays in the daily lives of people living in the Delaware Valley. During the lesson, they conducted various tests on Delaware River water, including measuring depth, temperature, PH levels, and phosphate content.

Students in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program take part in the Ecology of the Delaware lesson at the Independence Seaport Museum

After our activities concluded, several opted to stay and explore the Cruiser Olympia and the submarine USS Becuna. Overall the experience gave our students a greater appreciation of the impact of Philadelphia’s waterways.

The Karabots Junior Fellows at National Biomechanics Day 2018

A Drexel graduate student attaches a motion sensor to a student's arm during National Biomechanics Day 2018

National Biomechanics Day is a global initiative that aims to introduce high school students and teachers to the field of biomechanics. Celebrated on April 11, organizations all over the world take part in hands-on activities to demonstrate the concepts of biomechanics and its diverse applications. During this year’s program, the fifth cohort of the Karabots Junior Fellows Program traveled to the Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences at Drexel University’s College of Nursing and Health Professions to learn the ways scientists are using biomechanics to assist in physical therapy and recovery.

Breaking into small groups, the students met with Drexel graduate students, who oversaw interactive activities using mechanical sensors and detection equipment to map the way human bodies move, valuable information when monitoring a patient’s recovery and identifying potential mobility issues. At one station, students made use of MOCAP equipment to map out leg movement. Short for “motion capture,” mocap involves using a system of sensors to digitally record a person’s movement; popularized in video game design, mocap has myriad practical applications, including in the field of physical therapy. At another station, the students donned special sensors on their arms to record and monitor arm movement while performing simple tasks, such as lifting small weights and push-ups. The final station sought to transform physical therapy into an interactive game (game-based learning is no stranger to the Karabots Junior Fellows Program). Graduate students utilized a Microsoft Xbox Kinect, a motion-capture sensor designed for specialized video games (although it also has been used for scientific and medical applications) to map a players physical movements in order to play the arcade classic Pac-Man.

A student in the Karabots Junior Fellows Program jumps as he plays Pac-Man using a motion-detecting sensor at National Biomechanics Day

By jumping, flexing, and moving around, our students learned the different exciting ways biomechanics can be used to help patients recover from trauma and strengthen their mobility. We are thankful to Clare Milner, PhD, FACSM, Associate Professor, Department of Physical Therapy and Rehabilitation Sciences, Drexel University, and the rest of her time for an exciting event.