The Mütter Museum preserves a rare, endlessly fascinating 19th-century collection of anatomical specimens, medical devices and other such biological oddities—from skulls and petrified corpses to the organs of conjoined twins. Curator Anna Dhody is the lucky geek who gets to oversee that collection; she’ll wax poetic about her job at a Philadelphia Science Festival event on April 23, “Great Gigs: Open Labs Edition,” but first she shared some thoughts about it with PW.
As Mütter curator, what specifically is the most gleefully awesomely cool thing you’ve done?
There are far too many to name just one. My most recent: I was invited to interview Mary Roach at the Free Library of Philadelphia last Thursday. Her new book, Gulp: Adventures on the Alimentary Canal, just came out, and she did a good bit of her research at the Mütter. The two of us got to chat on stage about all things digestive—from secretion to excretion and everything in between. The excretory puns were flying! I had the best time I’ve ever had interviewing someone.
You revealed in the latest installment of your YouTube series, Guess What’s On the Curator’s Desk, that you’re a new mom. Now, I’ve had pregnant nonscientist friends say, “No, thanks” to visiting the Mütter before. Can you talk at all about how the worldview of a forensic anthropologist informed your impending motherhood?
I can understand and respect how some pregnant women might not want to visit the museum. In my case I was lucky enough to have superb prenatal care, and since I am no spring chicken, my baby was closely monitored for the time he was about two weeks until he was born. Since I knew everything was going well, I could relax and enjoy my pregnancy. As a forensic anthropologist I did monitor his progress in a slightly different way, instead of thinking, “OK, he is seven weeks and the size of a blueberry,” I am thinking, “He is starting to form hands and feet from the limb buds via endochondral ossification.” My son is going to grow up surrounded by skulls and wet specimens and all things weird and wonderful. I have no idea how it is going to work out, you can ask me in about 15 years.
Aside from work, what do you geek out over?
I have a standing Game Night with a bunch of good friends, we get together most Thursdays to play board and card games like Fluxx, Munchkin, Settlers of Catan, etc. I love all things Cthulhu, I can quote most of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, if I had a TARDIS I would probably use it to store books, I need my daily NPR fix, and I adore hedgehogs.
Three citywide brainy festivals. One skyscraper-sized game of Pong. Infinite future possibilities. And a 70-year flashback to sci-fi history.
PW's Summer Guide 2014