A new discovery about Albert Einstein’s brain may shed light on his genius, a new study suggests. The German-born theoretical physicist had unusually well-connected left and right hemispheres of his brain, according to a study published in the journal Brain.
“This study, more than any other to date, really gets at the ‘inside’ of Einstein’s brain,” Florida State University evolutionary anthropologist Dean Falk said in a statement. “It provides new information that helps make sense of what is known about the surface of Einstein’s brain.”
The study is the first to describe Einstein’s corpus callosum -- a thick band of nerve fibers that connects the left and right hemispheres. To do it, lead author Weiwei Men of East China Normal University developed a new technique that measured the varying thicknesses of subdivisions of the corpus callosum along its length. The thicknesses shows how many nerves cross from the two sides of brain and how well “connected” they are.
“This technique should be of interest to other researchers who study the brain’s all-important internal connectivity,” Falk said.
Scientists were able to compare Einstein’s brain with measurements from two samples: one of 15 elderly men and one of 52 men Einstein’s age in 1905 -- the year Einstein was 26 years old and published four articles that gave radical insight into the world’s understanding of the universe. Compared with the samples, researchers found that Einstein had more extensive connections between certain parts of his hemispheres.
Einstein’s brain was preserved soon after his death at age 76 in 1955 by Dr. Thomas Harvey at Princeton University. At the time, 14 photographs were taken of the brain from multiple angles before it was sectioned into 240 blocks.
Last year, Falk and associates conducted a study using the photos of Einstein’s brain to determine that it was indeed different. “Einstein’s brain differs from the average human brain,” NPR quoted Falk as saying. “In various parts, it’s more convoluted. It’s bumpier, and that may be related to an increase in the neurons.”
The fact Einstein’s brain had more complicated folding across the cerebral cortex may have contributed to his higher-than-average IQ, Falk said. Some believe the folds and extra surface area for mental processing creates more connections in the brain and aids in abstract thought -- something Einstein did well.
“He did thought experiments where he’d imagine himself riding alongside a beam of light, and this is exactly the part of the brain one would expect to be very active” in such thought experiments, Falk told LiveScience.
But some see Einstein’s brilliance as a product of nature. “It’s not just that it’s bigger or smaller, it’s that the actual pattern is different,” said Sandra Witelson, a researcher at McMaster University who has studied Einstein’s brain. “His anatomy is unique compared to every other photograph or drawing of a human brain that has ever been recorded.”