The Strange Odyssey of Einstein's Stolen Brain

And the breakthrough it led to
By Kevin Spak,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 2, 2010 9:23 AM CDT
German-Swiss-American mathematical physicist Albert Einstein is seen in this file photo from 1933.   (Getty Images)

(Newser) – When Thomas Harvey performed Albert Einstein's autopsy, he removed his brain, which was standard procedure. But what he did next wasn't standard at all: He put the brain in a jar of formaldehyde and made off with it. NPR relates the strange tale in a segment this morning. Harvey said he was driven by a sense of scientific duty, and through the years would freely distribute bits of the brain to leading neuroanatomists.

But he wasn't always diligent about it. When UC Berkeley scientist Marian Diamond requested a sample, it was three years before chunks of the brain showed up, by mail, in a mayonnaise jar. Those chunks would lead to a phenomenal discovery—that glial cell, once believed to be merely glue binding neurons together, actually communicate with each other. As for the rest of the brain, Harvey eventually returned what was left of it to Einstein's granddaughter, carrying it across the country in a Tupperware container.

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