Wednesday, September 26, 2012
Albert Einstein's brain has been digitized and made available through an iPad app.
What was it about Albert Einstein's brain that made him a genuis? We may never know, but our chances of knowing have greatly improved now that his brain has been digitized and made available through an iPad app.
The app, which was developed by the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Chicago, uses slides made by pathologist Thomas Harvey. Harvey, a Princeton pathologist, performed Einstein's autopsy in 1955.
Jacopo Annese, a scientist at the Brain Observatory at UC San Diego, sat down with KPBS to answer some questions about the app.
Q. This seems very Orwellian to me. Does it not to you?
A. I'm use to this type of technology, so it's not so out-of-this-world to me.
Q. This app is going to make more detailed images of Einstein's brain accessible to everybody, including scientists. Why is that so exciting?
A. One of the most exciting things is to be able to share the history of science. I haven't yet looked at the collection, but I know of the collection. It's very nice that there are so many slides now available. It will take time to see what impact it creates and the resonance with researchers and whether there'll be new hypotheses on the relationship between creativity and the brain.
Q. My understanding is that it may be difficult for scientists to figure out from where in Einstein's brain these slides actually came. What kind of problems does that present to those who hope to learn more from this?
A. The main limitation is not the application, which is really cool, but the actual collection itself. These are slides from a long time ago. I think the biggest problem is going to be when researchers try to compare this data with similar data from other brains. Again, to try to understand what the basis is for mathematical thinking or genius or creativity in the brain, we need to be able to compare the brain of someone like Einstein, who's a celebrated genuis - and we don't know the definition of genius, practically - but assuming we did, to a normal brain.
Q. Do you think this will spark any interest in the field of brain research?
A. The public will have a chance to get to know a very, very little known branch of neuroscience, which is histology and pathology. And that, I think, will have a very wonderful effect if people got to know a little bit more about brain-slicing and staining and about what a pathologist does.
Q. Would Einstein have been excited about this application?
A. I think, yes, he might have - given that he was so intellectually curious. I don't think he would have disapproved.
Anyone can download the app for $9.99.