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What happened to Einstein's brain?

His was one of the finest minds of all time, the source of both the theory of relativity and the world's most famous equation. But what happened to theoretical physicist Albert Einstein's grey matter after he died? Not what he expected, is the short answer...

Pathologist Thomas Harvey holds the brain of Albert Einstein in a jar, Kansas, 1994. Harvey, the on-duty pathologist during the eminent physicist's autopsy, removed Einstein’s brain and kept most of it stored in two glass jars, refrigerated inside a beer cooler, for more than 20 years. (Photo by Michael Brennan/Getty Images)
Published: April 16, 2018 at 4:42 pm
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Before his death in 1955, Albert Einstein had requested that he be cremated, so his corpse didn’t become the plaything of superfans and scientists.


Yet the on-duty pathologist, Thomas Harvey, removed Einstein’s brain during the eminent physicist's autopsy. Many were outraged, but Harvey convinced Einstein’s son to let him keep the brain, promising that it would further the cause of neuroscience. Indeed, he sliced the brain into over 200 pieces, some of which he sent to medical experts in the hope they could find clues to Einstein’s brilliance.

However, few were interested in this madcap scheme, and so Harvey kept most of the brain stored in two glass jars, refrigerated inside a beer cooler. Eventually, he tried to pass the bits of brain on to Einstein’s granddaughter, but she didn’t want them either.

It wasn’t until 1978, when a journalist reported Harvey’s bizarre quest, that scientists took an interest. But Harvey’s DIY approach to preservation likely means any experimental results are flawed. The brain slices are now kept in two American medical museums.


This article was taken from BBC History Revealed magazine


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