That statement goes beyond his theories and general contributions to science. According to researchers who have studied Einstein’s brain, there are some highly unusual characteristics that may have contributed to his highly unusual mental ability.
A study of 14 newly discovered photographs of Einstein’s brain, which was preserved for study after his death, concludes that the brain was indeed highly unusual in many ways. But researchers still don’t know exactly how the brain’s extra folds and convolutions translated into Einstein’s amazing abilities.
The detail’s of Einstein’s brain after his death was heavily documented. Researchers cut the brain in sections and made has many as 2,000 slices from the sections for microscopic examination. In addition, each section and slice was heavily noted and photographed.
Some of these studies did find interesting features in Einstein’s brain, including a greater density of neurons in some parts of the brain and a higher than usual ratio of glia (cells that help neurons transmit nerve impulses) to neurons. Two studies of the brain’s gross anatomy, including one published in 2009 by anthropologist Dean Falk of Florida State University at Tallahassee, found that Einstein’s parietal lobes — which might be linked to his remarkable ability to conceptualize physics problems — had a very unusual pattern of grooves and ridges.But the Falk study was based on only a handful of photographs that had been made available by Harvey, who died in 2007. In 2010, Harvey’s heirs agreed to transfer all of his materials to the U.S. Army’s National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring.
For the new study, published Nov. 16 in the journal Brain, Falk teamed up with neurologist Frederick Lepore of the Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey and Adrianne Noe, director of the museum, to analyze 14 photographs of the whole brain from the Harvey collection that had never been made public. The paper also includes a “road map” prepared by Harvey that links the photographs to the 240 blocks and the microscopic slides prepared from them in hopes that other scientists will use them to do follow-up research.
The team compared Einstein’s brain with those of 85 other people and found that the great physicist did indeed have something special between his ears. Although the brain is only average in size, several regions feature additional convolutions and folds rarely seen in others. For example, the regions on the left side of the brain that facilitate sensory inputs into and motor control of the face and tongue are much larger than normal; and his prefrontal cortex — linked to planning, focused attention and perseverance — is also greatly expanded.
“In each lobe,” including the frontal, parietal and occipital lobes, “there are regions that are exceptionally complicated in their convolutions,” Falk says. As for the enlarged regions linked to the face and tongue, Falk thinks that this might relate to Einstein’s famous quote that his thinking was often “muscular” rather than done in words.