Albert Einstein died on 18 April 1955. The autopsy was carried out at Princeton Hospital by pathol
|Was Einstein’s brain different?
Credit: NMPFT/Daily Herald Archive/Science & Society Picture Library
ogist Thomas Stolz Harvey, who removed the scientist’s brain. What happened to Einstein’s brain after that has become something of a cult story.
Little was heard of the brain for over 20 years. Then, in 1978, journalist Steven Levy tracked down the pathologist to an office in Kansas. Harvey still had Einstein’s brain - stored, according to Levy, in two jars in a box marked ‘Costa Cider’. Once the story broke Harvey was besieged by reporters from around the world. Einstein was big news, even two decades after his death.
Since then, pieces of Einstein’s brain have ended up all over the world, from America to Japan; in 1997 parts of the brain took a road trip across America in the boot of a rental car, accompanied by Harvey and journalist Michael Paterniti.
Harvey’s motivation in removing Einstein’s brain and keeping it hidden for so long remains uncertain: he claimed he had kept the brain to see if it revealed anything of Einstein’s genius, but published no studies until after the press had revealed his story. Einstein’s family, wary of having the brain exploited as a ‘relic’ or curiosity, decided that it should be used for scientific study and most of the brain is now held by neuroscientists in the USA and Canada.
So, is there anything special about Einstein’s brain? In 1985 a study suggested that Einstein had an unusually high number of cells that help to speed up communication between neurons. A 1999 Lancet article suggested that Einstein’s brain was larger than normal in the area associated with mathematics and creativity. But it’s difficult to draw conclusions based on one brain - in future scientists may try to compare the brains of many ‘geniuses’. It might turn out that the most unusual thing about Einstein’s brain is the way we’ve treated it.