The brain that revolutionized physics now can be downloaded as an app for $9.99.
While Albert Einstein’s genius isn’t included, an exclusive iPad application that launched Sept. 25 promises to make detailed images of his brain more accessible to scientists than ever before. Teachers, students, and anyone who’s curious also can get a look.
A medical museum under development in Chicago obtained funding to scan and digitize nearly 350 fragile and priceless slides made from slices of Einstein’s brain after his death in 1955. The application will allow researchers and novices alike to peer into the eccentric Nobel winner’s brain as if they were looking through a microscope.
“I can’t wait to find out what they’ll discover,” said Steve Landers, a consultant for the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago who designed the app. “I’d like to think Einstein would have been excited.”
After Einstein died, a pathologist named Thomas Harvey performed an autopsy, removing the great man’s brain in hopes that future researchers could discover the secrets behind his genius.
Harvey gave samples to researchers and collaborated on a 1999 study published in the Lancet. That study showed a region of Einstein’s brain—the parietal lobe—was 15 percent wider than normal. The parietal lobe is important to the understanding of math, language, and spatial relationships.
The new iPad app might allow students and researchers to dig even deeper by looking for brain regions where the neurons are more densely connected than normal, said Dr. Phillip Epstein, a Chicago-area neuroscientist and consultant for the museum.
But because the tissue was preserved before modern imaging technology, it might be difficult for scientists to figure out exactly where in Einstein’s brain each slide originated. Although the new app organizes the slides into general brain regions, it doesn’t map them with precision to an anatomical model.
“They didn’t have MRI. We don’t have a three-dimensional model of the brain of Einstein, so we don’t know where the samples were taken from,” said researcher Jacopo Annese of the Brain Observatory at the University of California, San Diego. What’s more, the 1-inch-by-3-inch Einstein slides on the app represent only a fraction of the entire brain, Annese said.
Annese has preserved and digitized another famous brain, that of Henry Molaison, who died in 2008 after living for decades with profound amnesia. Known as “H.M.” in scientific studies, Molaison participated during his life in research that revealed new insights on learning and memory.