THE BLOG
05/15/2012 02:14 pm ET Updated Jul 15, 2012

The Odyssey of a Brain

It's impossible not to think about the profound mysteries of the universe when we hear the name Albert Einstein. What would you be thinking when you see pieces of Einstein's brain dangling in glass jars?

Two slices of Einstein's brain are on display at Wellcome's new exhibition in London from 29 March to 17 June, 2012 named Mind as Matter. The brain that helped us to demystify the space and time continues to attract public attention. The journey of that brain spanning more than 50 years is unsurpassed in many ways, and is equally captivating just like its voyage before the death of the genius.

Einstein's brain was preserved after his death?

Einstein died on April 18, 1955 in Princeton, New Jersey. Thomas Harvey, the doctor who carried out the autopsy on Einstein, put the brain in a jar of formaldehyde and made off with it. Harvey thought he was doing a great service to science by preserving it. He hoped that at some point scientists will be able to figure out the key to the secret of a genius. Later on, the brain was dissected and even sent to some researchers who wanted to study Einstein's brain. However; Harvey kept the jar that contained most of it. The whole brain existed only in photographs taken by Harvey. This entire story is described in the book Driving Mr. Albert: A Trip across America with Einstein's Brain by journalist Michael Paternity.

Einstein's brain is so different ?

One paper, titled "On the Brain of a Scientist: Albert Einstein," appearing in 1985, indicated a greater number of glial cells per neuron in Einstein's brain, which is perhaps linked to his better thinking abilities and conceptual skills. The first anatomical study was published in 1999, by Sandra Witelson, a neurobiologist at McMaster University in Hamilton, Canada. It reported that Einstein's parietal lobes, which are responsible for mathematical thought and visiospatial cognition, were 15% wider than normal parietal lobes. Furthermore, other studies have shown that certain parts of the brain were indeed very unusual, though some researchers consider it as speculative. So far, the studies haven't established any unusual conclusions to explain Einstein's genius. Though neuroscience has become much more advanced since the time of Einstein's death, it's still a young field and the "neural basis of intellect" is still not completely comprehended. Further studies might reveal the new features of the mastermind that involved in imagery and complex thinking.

Where is Einstein's brain now?

Thomas Harvey claimed that he has the authorization to take the brain. Einstein unambiguously directed that his body be cremated after his death, but Harvey claimed he has the permission from Einstein's son, Hans Albert, to conduct a scientific study of Einstein brain. It's matter of dispute even now. Harvey moved around the country and always brought the brain with him, although he lost his job and was criticized by many of his colleagues for his actions. In 1998, Harvey returned the remaining parts of Einstein's brain to the pathology department at Princeton University, where the bulk of it remains preserved. Harvey died in 2007. Last year, the Mutter Museum, Philadelphia, displayed 46 slides containing the slices of Einstein's brain to the public view for the first time.

The two slides that are on display in the Wellcome collection are on loan from Mutter Museum. The brain that embarked on a quest to uncover the unknown universe still remains mysterious. Coincidentally, in Einstein's own words "The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and all science."