Albert Einstein's brain
has often been a subject of research and speculation. Einstein's brain
was removed within seven hours of his death
. The brain has attracted attention because of Einstein's reputation for being one of the foremost geniuses
of the 20th century, and apparent regularities or irregularities in the brain have been used to support various ideas about correlations in neuroanatomy
with general or mathematical intelligence
. Scientific studies have suggested that regions involved in speech and language are smaller, while regions involved with numerical and spatial processing are larger. Other studies have suggested an increased number of Glial cells
in Einstein's brain.
Preservation of Einstein's brain
Einstein's brain was removed, weighed and preserved by Thomas Stoltz Harvey, the pathologist who performed the autopsy on Einstein. He claimed he hoped that cytoarchitectonics would reveal useful information. Harvey injected 10% formalin through the internal carotid arteries and afterwards suspended the intact brain in 10% formalin. Harvey photographed the brain from many angles. He then dissected it into roughly 240 blocks (each about 10cm3) and encased the segments in a plastic-like material called celloidin. Harvey may also have removed Einstein's eyes, and given them to Henry Abrams. He was apparently fired from his position at Princeton Hospital shortly thereafter for refusing to relinquish the organs.
Whether Einstein's brain was removed and preserved after his death in 1955 with his permission is a matter of dispute. Ronald Clark's 1971 biography of Einstein said that "he had insisted that his brain should be used for research and that he be cremated", but more recent research has suggested that this may not be true at all, and that the brain was removed and preserved without either Einstein's prior permission or the permission of his close relatives (Einstein, Walter Isaacson
). Hans Albert Einstein
, the physicist’s son, agreed to the removal after the event but insisted that his father’s brain should be used only for scientific research to be published in scientific journals
of high standing.
In 1978, Einstein's brain was rediscovered in the possession of Dr Harvey by journalist Steven Levy. The brain sections had been preserved in alcohol in 2 large mason jars within a cider box for over 20 years.
The brains of other geniuses
Preserving the brains of geniuses was not a new phenomenon—another famous brain to be preserved and discussed in a similar manner was that of the German mathematician Carl Friedrich Gauss
almost a hundred years earlier. His brain was studied by Rudolf Wagner
who found its weight to be 1,492 grams and the cerebral area equal to 219,588 square millimeters. Also found were highly developed convolutions, which was suggested as the explanation of his genius . Other famous brains that were removed and studied include that of Vladimir Lenin
and the Native American
. The brain of Edward H. Rulloff
and "criminal of superior intelligence," was removed after his death in 1871; in 1972, it was still the second largest brain on record .
Harvey found nothing unusual with Einstein's brain, which is of average size.
Study finding part of Einstein's brain missing and another part 15% larger
However, in 1999, further analysis by a team at McMaster University
in Hamilton Ontario
revealed that his parietal operculum
region in the inferior frontal gyrus
in the frontal lobe
of the brain
was vacant. Also absent was part of a bordering region called the lateral sulcus
(Sylvian fissure). Researchers at McMaster University speculated that the vacancy may have enabled neurons in this part of his brain to communicate better. "This unusual brain anatomy…(missing part of the Sylvian fissure)… may explain why Einstein thought the way he did,"
said Professor Sandra Witelson
who led the research published in The Lancet
. It should be noted that this study was based on photographs of Einstein's brain made in 1955 by Dr. Harvey, and not direct examination of the brain, as implied by the caption of one of the photographs, inaccurately identifying it as a photograph from 1995. Einstein himself claimed that he thought through images rather than verbally. Professor Laurie Hall of Cambridge University
commenting on the study, said, "To say there is a definite link is one bridge too far, at the moment. So far the case isn't proven. But magnetic resonance and other new technologies are allowing us to start to probe those very questions
Scientists are currently interested in the possibility that physical differences in brain structure could determine different abilities. One famous part of the operculum is Broca's area which plays an important role in speech production (Einstein was speculated to have Asperger's Syndrome). To compensate, the inferior parietal lobe was 15 percent wider than normal. The inferior parietal region is responsible for mathematical thought, visuospatial cognition, and imagery of movement.
Study finding more glial cells in Einstein's brain
In the 1980s, University of California, Berkeley
professor Marian C. Diamond persuaded Thomas Harvey to give her samples of Einstein's brain. She compared the ratio of glial cells
in Einstein's brain with that in the preserved brains of 11 men. (Glial cells provide support and nutrition in the brain, form myelin, and participate in signal transmission.) Dr. Diamond's laboratory made thin sections of Einstein's brain, each 6 micrometers thick. They then used a microscope
to count the cells
. Einstein's brain had more glial cells relative to neurons in all areas studied, but only in the left inferior parietal area was the difference statistically significant
. This area is part of the association cortex
, regions of the brain responsible for incorporating and synthesizing information from multiple other brain regions. Diamond admits a limitation in her study is that she had only one Einstein to compare with 11 normal men. S. S. Kantha of the Osaka BioScience Institute
criticized Diamond's study, as did Terence Hines
of Pace University
Diamond and Joseph Altman (then of Purdue University) had already both discovered that rats with enriched environments developed more glial cells for each neuron. Rats in impoverished environments had fewer glial cells relative for each neuron.