Spring Break Surprise

A museum in Reykjavik was the last place three College of Medicine students expected to encounter one of their professors’ names.

Koshala Selvakumar, Olivia Antonescu and Kate Borthwick (shown from left to right in photo above) had headed to the Icelandic capital, looking for a relaxing, fun spring break. “Next year at this time you’ll be busy studying for Step 1. Go while you can,’’ second-year students urged the three first-year students.

Iceland is known for glorious views of the Northern Lights in January and puffin sightings later in the spring. In April, driving on the Golden Circle tourist route of regional highlights gives you a chance to see a national park, a geyser, a waterfall, wild horses—and more. Sure, it was cold, said Koshala Selvakumar. Who cares when you’re sipping a smoothie in a natural hot spring?

The second day of their adventures, the friends stopped into the Whales of Iceland. “I was listening to an audio tour and watching a video, multi-tasking, when I heard the name ‘Hans Thewissen,’ and I said ‘What?!’ remembered Selvakumar. Her friends had spread out to other parts of the museum, where visitors can walk under huge (full-scale) hanging models of whales (shown below). Selvakumar quickly found them. Whale Museum

The three sat, riveted, listening to the video loop repeatedly. They were determined to catch every reference to their Human Development and Structure professor last semester, J.G.M. (“Hans”) Thewissen, Ph.D., Ingalls-Brown Professor of Anatomy.

Because the Whales of Iceland Museum tells the story of how whales evolved, it makes sense that a video would contain the work of Dr. Thewissen, known for studying fossil whales, to learn how they evolved—in particular, how whales originated from land animals. The life-size walking whale fossil that hangs on display at NEOMED is one of Dr. Thewissen’s more famous finds—and the one that inspired NEOMED’s mascot, Nate.

It was pretty exciting to come across their professor’s work so unexpectedly, says Selvakumar. Back home, Antonescu, Borthwick and Selvakumar were happy to share the news with Dr. Thewissen, who was as surprised as the students.

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