History Channel visits Drexel ‘looking for’ superhuman answers







“In Search Of” actor and host Zachary Quinto shoots in the research labs at Drexel’s College of Nursing and Health Professions.


Is it really possible to be superhuman? That’s what actor Zachary Quinto tried to figure out as the host of the new “Looking for” show – enlisting the help of a Drexel University professor to uncover some answers.

The episode featuring Stella Volpe, PhD, professor and chair of the Department of Nutritional Sciences at the College of Nursing and Health Professions, explored aspects of superhuman nature, like extreme feats of strength and endurance . As a nutritionist and exercise physiologist, Volpe regularly tests bone mineral density – a measure of the amount of calcium and minerals in the bones that demonstrates bone strength – and she has scanned Quinto and a Shaolin warrior monk known as the abbot to test the density or strength of their bones and skull.

The Abbott, one of the superhumans tested in the episode, practices Shaolin kung fu, which is one of the oldest and most famous styles of kung fu and combines Zen Buddhism and martial arts. For years he had been training and meditating to build strength and endure pain. For example, to become a monk, one of the tests he had to pass was to burn nine incense sticks on his head, one at a time, for nine minutes each.

The feat of strength he demonstrated on “In Search Of” was less about heat and more about brute force. He was filmed meditating and performing special moves before smashing a wooden stick over his head, a move that would give most people a concussion or serious head injury. Amazingly, the Abbott suffered no injuries and his nervous system registered no “fight or flight” responses – instead, he actually lowered his body temperature and lowered his grief to calm down and resist. to the impact of the wooden stick.

How was it possible? Searching for answers, the show turned to Volpe for help.

Although the show aired on July 27, Volpe had his parts filmed in November 2017, about a month after a show producer contacted the College to see if there were any experts who could test. the strength and vital signs of a Shaolin monk and the host. a spectacle. Volpe was that expert.

“I wanted to be a part of this, as a scientist, because it sounded so interesting to me,” Volpe said.

She agreed – but she had no idea who the host was until she showed up and saw Quinto, who she knew as the actor who played Spock’s updated version of Leonard Nimoy in the rebooted. star trek films and would later host the rebooted version of “In Search Of”, which Nimoy hosted in the 70s and 80s (which Volpe remembers watching).

On the day of the shoot, Arun Ramakrishnan, PhD, director of research laboratories in the The College of Nursing and Health Professions helped prepare Drexel’s Dual-Energy X-ray Absorptiometry (DXA) lab, one of the College’s physiological strength research labs, for the visit .

As shown on the show, Volpe tested both Abbott and Quinto (who did not attempt to break a stick with his face) to compare the strength of their bones. The entire shoot lasted about two hours, and about three or four dozen crew members were filmed in the search space as Volpe talked to Quinto and the Abbott on and off camera.

“They were both so sweet,” she said. “The Abbott is originally from Italy, so when I found out about this, I spoke Italian to him. My parents were both Italian, so I grew up speaking Italian, and I also lived in Italy for a few months for work. He was so warm and kind to talk to.

Quinto was 11 years younger than the Abbott and had greater bone mineral density measured in his bones and skull – but surprisingly the Abbott was the one who achieved superior feats of strength. After the tests, the three of them got together to talk, impromptu, about the difference in bone density.

“If I did the drill that the Abbott did this afternoon, breaking that stick over my head, I feel like I’d just be in the hospital,” Quinto told Volpe. “So is there any way to explain the ability for him to be able to do that?”

“That’s a great question because I think it depends on the specifics of how you train. [gesturing to the Abbot]Volpe replied. “We are not working to allow ourselves to do this. This is the biggest difference between why, for example, you and I would hurt each other.

In the end, it was truly an extreme case of mind over matter – as will be proven again later in the episode when Abbott’s brain measured small pain points when he immersed his hand in a bowl of ice water, while being measured in an MRI.

After Volpe watched the entire episode – which included segments about a man who ripped a door off a burning car in an adrenaline-fueled moment of extreme force and a man who couldn’t feel the pain – she said it was “fun watching how all the parts came together.

“I don’t know if this experience will affect my research, but what I can tell you is that it definitely made me think more in my workouts,” Volpe said. “It’s really a matter of spirit rather than matter.”