“[Albert Einstein's] association with great intelligence has made the name Einstein synonymous with genius.” 2

About Einstein

Albert Einstein is considered one of the great thinkers of mankind. His work has influenced the development of science and mathematics around the world. Einstein published hundreds of books and articles.

He is best known for his theory of relativity which led to the mass-energy equivalence equation. This theory is based on two postulates:

  1. The laws of physics are the same for all observers in uniform motion relative to one another.
  2. The speed of light in a vacuum is the same for all observers, regardless of their relative motion or the motion of the source of light.
“Einstein's impressive insights tended to come from visual images he conjured up intuitively, then translated into the language of mathematics. (the theory of special relativity, for example, was triggered by his musings on what it would be like to ride through space on a beam of light).” 3

Learn more about Einstein

The dissection

Cartoon brain

Einstein's brain

When Einstein died from an aneurysm in 1955, the pathologist who performed Einstein’s autopsy, Dr. Thomas Harvey, dissected his brain into roughly 240 1 cm cubed blocks. These blocks were encased in a plastic-like substance. This appalled and outraged many scientists because Harvey had no credentials in neuroscience and he refused to give back Einstein’s organs to Princeton Hospital. Harvey was later fired for not returning the organs. 1 3

Fortunately for Harvey, while it is unclear if Einstein wished for his brain to be used for research, his son agreed to the removal after the fact - but stipulated that it only be used for research to be published in reputable journals. 1

A unique proposition

Harvey let few people access the organ. He sent small slivers of the brain to doctors and scientists whose work intrigued him.

In 1996 he sent a hand written fax to Dr. Sandra Witelson, a researcher at McMaster University in Hamilton ON 7 asking: "Would you be willing to collaborate with me on studying the brain of Albert Einstein?" 5 Witelson eagerly agreed.

Harvey packed the brain in the back of his truck and drove north to Canada. When he crossed customs at midnight, the officials asked for his declaration.

"Just a brain in the trunk..."

Apparently customs waved him through.

Witelson's Experiment

Harvey gave a large sample to Witelson, who ran the largest brain bank in the world. 6

Witelson and colleagues did an anatomical study between the brains of 35 men of normal intelligence and Einstein’s brain. 4 While Einstein’s brain weighs less than the average adult male brain, they found that the portion that governs mathematical and spatial reasoning was 15% wider than usual. In addition, Einstein had one parietal lobe compartment and had more inter-cellular connections. 5

Einstein’s brain is now back at Princeton Hospital.

The following table is a portion of the measurements from Witelson’s original paper. 7

Einstein's brain compared to a control group
  Einstein Control
  Left Right Left Right
Brain weight, fresh (g) 1230 1400
Hemisphere weight, fixed (g) 550 545 591 591
Maximum height of hemisphere (OF) (cm) 8.9 8.7 9.3 9.4
Maximum width of hemisphere (cm) 17.2 16.4 16.9 16.8
Ratio of width of hemisphere to height 7.5 7.5 6.5 6.5

Learn more about Dr. Witelson's research

  1. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein's_brain
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein#In_popular_culture
  3. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,991347,00.html?iid=digg_share
  4. http://eileen.250x.com/Main/Einstein/EinsteinBrain.html
  5. http://www.latimes.com/news/printedition/la-sci-brainsex16jun16,0,1790519.story
  6. http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/ein.html
  7. http://health.howstuffworks.com/einsteins-brain.htm/printable
  8. Witelson, Sandra F Debra L Kigar and Thomas Harvey. “The exceptional brain of Albert Einstein.” The Lancet, Vol 353, June 19, 1999.
  9. http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/ein.html