A new study suggests Albert Einstein’s brain was unusually well-connected. Microscopic imagery of the corpus callosum, the neurons and fibers that connect the left and right hemispheres, revealed Einstein’s brain was better “wired” to send and receive information between the brain’s halves and various regions. Researchers at East China Normal University’s Department of Physics developed a new method for mapping the connection between the two cerebral hemispheres in Einstein’s brain. Their study, reported in the journal Brain, suggests the physiological difference contributed to Einstein’s remarkable genius.
Einstein’s brain was better-connected than most, according to new study
Einstein’s brain was a bit different than yours and mine.
Science Recorder | Rick Docksai | Saturday, October 05, 2013
Albert Einstein’s high-level analytical prowess has so intrigued fellow scientists down through the decades that several groups of them have studied the physiological structures of his brain postmortem for explanations as to why he might have been so smart. And each study has found one or more ways in which his brain physically differed from that of average adults. Recently, a first-ever Chinese study has weighed in on the matter and come up with a new finding of its own: Namely, Einstein’s brain was unusually well-connected.
A research group at East China Normal University in Shanghai conducted the study, the results of which the journal Brain published earlier this week. The group observed high-resolution images of the late physicist’s actual brain tissue, which has been kept fully preserved to this day ever since Princeton University Hospital surgeon Thomas Stoltz Harvey had extracted it just hours after Einstein’s April 18, 1955, death in the hospital from an aortic aneurism.
Weiwei Men, East China Normal physicist and the study’s lead researcher, zeroed in on a central juncture, the corpus callosum, which fuses the brain’s two halves together. In any human brain, Einstein’s included, there is a right hemisphere and a left one, each responsible for a different array of functions—the left discerns order and structure and directs grammar, vocabulary, word comprehension, and mathematical computation, while the right oversees processing of form, structure, language intonation, general quantities, and emotion responses. The two hemispheres communicate and coordinate with each other via the corpus callosum.
Men zeroed in on Einstein’s corpus callosum in the images and used a graphic visualization technique to measure the thickness of the juncture’s various subdivisions. Thickness indicates the number of intersecting nerves at the spot, which in turn indicates the degree of connectivity—more intersecting nerves means better-connected brain tissue.
Then Men and his cohorts compared the measurements with those of the brains of 67 other deceased adults who had been born the same year as Einstein. The conclusion: Einstein’s brain surpassed all of the others in the connectivity between his brain’s hemispheres and their various regions.
Other idiosyncrasies within Einstein’s brain have emerged in earlier studies. One found more folds across his cerebral cortex, for instance, while another found that his brain had a higher-than-average a higher ratio of glial cells—glial form myelin, participate in signal transmission, and nourish and support the overall brain—to neurons. Men et al’s study is the first to look at Einstein’s corpus callosum in depth, however.