Where is Einstein’s brain? | Live Science
On April 18, 1955, Albert Einstein died of an abdominal aneurysm at age 76 at Princeton University Medical Center in Plainsboro, New Jersey. According to his wishes, the legendary physicist’s remains were cremated and his ashes were scattered at an undisclosed location.
Except, that is, for his brain.
Immediately after Einstein’s death, the man who oversaw the autopsy on the late physicist — a pathologist at Princeton Hospital named Thomas Stoltz Harvey — removed Einstein’s brain from his body, cut it into 240 blocks, and kept most of the preserved pieces. his personal property for over 40 years. Today, 170 of those blocks have been returned to Princeton University Medical Center, where they are kept under lock and key. the BBC (opens in new tab). Another 46 hair-thin slices of Einstein’s brain tissue are on display at the Mütter Museum medical history in Philadelphia. Many of the other pieces are still missing.
How could so many pieces of perhaps the most famous brain in history just disappear? The answer stems from a belief by Harvey and others that there was something physically exceptional about Einstein’s brain, and that proper scientific analysis of the brain could explain Einstein’s genius.
After removing and dicing Einstein’s brain in 1955, Harvey instructed them to cut a few blocks into 12 sets of 200 ultra-thin slices of tissue, each to no more than half the width of a human hair. (He also took pictures of the whole brain from different angles, before dissection).
Without the permission of Einstein’s family, Harvey mounted those brain slices on slides and distributed them to an unknown number of researchers who – he hoped – could uncover the brain’s hidden secrets. Harvey personally drove many of these monsters across the U.S. and parts of Canada, keeping the remaining bulk of Einstein’s brain in a jar in a cardboard box in his car, according to Science (opens in new tab).
When his road trip with the brain of the genius finally came to an end, Harvey moved the remaining brain blocks to a series of jars in his house. Though he continued to share samples with interested researchers, Harvey held onto most of Einstein’s brain until 1998, when he finally returned the remains to Princeton University Medical Center — 43 years after removing it from Einstein’s head. Today, scientists are only allowed to look at the brain of genius if they make a very compelling proposition to the Medical Center, according to the BBC.
Has Harvey’s attempt to unravel the secrets of Einstein’s brain yield anything? Something. Several studies have been published on the photos and samples Harvey disseminated, the first of which appeared in 1985. These studies found small differences in Einstein’s brain structure compared to control groups of non-genius brains, including a extra groove in Einstein’s frontal lobe (opens in new tab) — the part of the brain associated with working memory and planning — and a greater concentration of neurons (opens in new tab) in certain areas, which may allow faster information processing.
Many of the researchers Harvey offered brain slices have since returned them. However, some of the slides that Harvey sent have never been recovered. This somewhat complicates the question, “where is Einstein’s brain?” While most of the dissected pieces remain in Princeton, where the genius physicist died, an untold number of tissue samples have simply disappeared. Einstein’s brain could be anywhere.
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