Happy Birthday Einstein!

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Any math nerd worth their weight in calculators knows that March 14 is Pi day! But did you know that March 14 is also Albert Einstein’s birthday?

Sunday, March 14, 2010 was Albert Einstein’s 131st birthday. Albert Einstein is possibly the most famous scientist of, well, pretty much ever. Einstein is often considered the father of modern Physics. His name and persona have permeated popular culture.

Einstein himself was not too fond of all the attention he received from the public. Before he died, he left instructions to cremate his remains and secretly scatter them to discourage idolaters. Though his ashes were scattered at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey, where he took a position when he immigrated to the United States in 1933, his instructions were not carried out completely. Thomas Harvey, a pathologist who undertook the autopsy, took Einstein’s brain and eyeballs, without the permission of Einstein’s family. Harvey later received permission to keep them from Einstein’s son.

The eyeballs were given to Henry Abrams, Einstein’s eye doctor. They reside, as far as we know, in a safety deposit box in New York City.

Thomas Harvey kept the brain for himself, he had the intention of studying the brain himself, but he was not particularly knowledgeable in the field of neuroscience. Over the course of more than 30 years, the study of Einstein’s brain went nowhere. It is a very interesting story, I recommend that you all Google, “The Long Strange Journey of Einstein’s Brain,” if you wish to know more.

One study done by Marian Diamond in 1985, showed that Einstein had a high glial cell to neuron ratio in one section of his brain, a part of the frontal cortex. Glial cells are the cells that take care of neurons. This result was enthusiastically received in the media. In fact, my Psychology 101 textbook has a reference to it! However, it is widely considered that her study was “bad science”. Diamond’s paper only reported 4 out of the 28 studies she did and she has openly admitted to rejecting results which did not fit her findings. Furthermore, she only reported ratios of glial cells to neurons, not actual numbers. A high ratio of glial cells to neurons could have meant that Einstein’s neurons were dying off rapidly (which is related to senile dementia).

In any case, Einstein’s brain has not proved to be very remarkable or special at all. So all of you aspiring geniuses take hope! You don’t have to have a very special brain to leave your mark on the world.

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