Did you know Einstein’s brain was stolen, cut into pieces and studied to unlock the mystery behind his intelligence?

Who stole Einstein's brain and what was special about it?


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Best known for developing the general theory of relativity and the mass-energy equivalence, one of the most absent-minded genius physicists, Einstein was born on March 14, 1879, in Germany.

His scholarly feats have made the name of Einstein synonymous with ‘Genius’. When he passed away on April 18, in the year 1955, in Princeton, New Jersey, from an abdominal aortic aneurysm, his brain was stolen by the pathologist on call, Thomas Harveys.

Why Einstein’s brain was stolen

Although Einstein did not want his brain or body to be studied or worshipped, while performing the autopsy, Princeton pathologist Thomas Harvey removed the scientist’s brain without permission and kept it aside in the hope of unlocking the secrets of his genius.

He had left behind specific instructions regarding his remains: cremate them, and scatter the ashes secretly in order to discourage idolaters.
– writes Brian Burrell in his 2005 book, Postcards from the Brain Museum.

Later, after he was able to get the approval of Einstein’s son, Harvey chopped the brain into pieces and sent it to various scientists for research.

What happened to the brain of Einstein afterwards

Harvey soon lost his job at the Princeton hospital and took the brain to Philadelphia. He carved the brain responsible for the equation E=mc2 into 240 pieces. The parts were preserved in celloidin- a hard and rubbery form of cellulose. He put the pieces into two jars and stored them in his basement.

Harvey travelled to different parts of the world carrying the parts of the brain with him.

In the year 1985, Harvey and collaborators in California published the first study on Einstein’s brain. It claimed that it had an abnormal proportion of two types of cells, neurons and glia. The study was followed by five others, reporting additional differences in individual cells or in particular structures in Einstein’s brain.

However, the studies were controversial with Terence Hines, a professor of psychology at Pace University, branding them as bunk. He presented a poster at the Cognitive Neuroscience Society annual meeting outlining all of the ways in which each of the six studies was flawed.

In the year, 1999, Harvey and Canadian collaborators got Einstein’s brain into one of the most prestigious medical journals. Based on an old photograph of Einstein’s brain, before it was cut, the researchers claimed that Einstein had an abnormal folding pattern in parts of his parietal lobe. It is the part which is linked to mathematical ability.

Courtesy: Indiatoday & Wikipedia


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