Working Acts, Circus “Freaks”, Genetics!


This motley character and his crew from Kabarett Vulgare came to the Mütter Museum to help us make a spectacle of anatomy and genetics. Same old, same old.


We often think of sideshow “freaks” (a name some proudly claim) as wondrous genetic anomalies. While these are the most revered members of the sideshow world, our friends from Kabarett Vulgare showed us some amazing “working acts.” These are daring feats accomplished with lots of practice and a DEEP understanding of general anatomy and one’s own personal anatomy. How deep is your nasal cavity? You better find out before you try putting a nail in it, like this “human blockhead” is doing.


The bed of nails is bit a more straightforward: how much pain can you tolerate? This is less biology than physics, because the most important consideration is the amount of surface area bearing your weight (and perhaps someone else’s if you’re as tough as our friend here). Is your weight being held up by 20 nails on your feet? 1000 nails across your whole back? The world record for this is held by a brave man who balanced himself on just TWO nails on his lower back. A little more weight and that guy might have punctured a lung or two.


Sara gave it a try as her fellow Fellows recoiled in horror.


Afterwards, our in-house museum educator Marcy Engleman guided us through some genetics 101, the basis for the other side of the sideshow world. What are the odds that your child might be born with some sideshow-worthy trait like extremely long limbs or knees that bend in two directions? You’ll have to break out the Punnett squares to find out.

Thanks again to Marcy and her friends at Kabarett Vulgare!

Healthcare Systems Showdown!

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That’s Dr. Walter Tsou, College Fellow, former president of the American Public Health Association and an active member of Physicians for Social Responsibility. He came to talk to our students about the structure of our health care system, and help us imagine what different systems might look like and how they might work. Choosing how to finance health care turns out to be a very philosophical question. Of course all the KJF3’s had an opinion, so we decided to plan a formal debate: Is universal healthcare feasible in the US?


With the guidance of our student mentors at the University of Pennsylvania School of Dental Medicine, the KJF3’s were split into teams and jumped right in to set up their arguments and opening statements. Nothing better than a serious debate to get teenagers out of bed early on a Saturday morning!

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We were a little shy about starting, but things picked up quickly.

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Elijah made some personal appeals. He doesn’t want to pay for anyone else’s health care if he feels they aren’t “pulling their weight.”

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David argued that the taxes needed to establish universal health care would limit freedoms defined by the Constitution.

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Mercedes would have none of it. “People in poverty can’t even afford to get to the hospital…people with more money pay a little more. That’s how taxes work.”


All in all, an exciting day of debate! Special thanks to our Penn Dental student mentors for making it possible.