View Einstein's brain under a microscope, piece by piece

A new app by the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago (NMHMC) lets you get up close and personal with one of the finest brains history has ever known — literally.

(Albert Einstein Head image by Jaakobou, public domain; Angular gyrus animation image by Database Center for Life Science, CC BY-SA 2.1)

A new app by the National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago (NMHMC) lets you get up close and personal with one of the finest brains that history has ever known — literally.

NMHMC Harvey wants you to get to know Einstein's brain. Intimately.

When Einstein died in 1955, Dr Thomas Harvey autopsied the physicist's brain, carefully dissecting it into 170 parts, which were then sliced up into hundreds of cross-sections for microscopic study, mounted on slides and stained with dyes.

The slides remained with the Harvey estate until 2010, when the collection was donated to NMHMC. Now, each and every slide is going through the process of digitisation.

But why should neuroscientists have all the fun? Now you, too, can examine, in intricate microscopic detail, the cells of Einstein's temporal lobe, the fibres of his brainstem. We've been looking at it all day, and we're just about ready to start solving Olbers' Paradox.

Glibness aside, proceeds from the sale of the app will go towards supporting the museum, as well as the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Maryland, which is a worthy cause. Though, if eyeballing the slides is all you want to do, the NMHMC has made them all available to view here for free.

While we can see the possible value in viewing Einstein's brain for researchers and scientists, we're not entirely sure what the public will get out of it — and the NMHMC did state quite clearly that this app is for the general public. Surely, it's from what the man did that we can learn the most — not what his brain looks like?

At any rate, if looking at sliced up body parts does happen to float your boat, allow us to recommend the more visually interesting Visible Human Project, which sliced a male cadaver horizontally at one-millimetre intervals, and made the slices into slides. (Video here. Warning: it does consist of slices of an actual human body.)

NMHMC Harvey for iPad (AU$10.49)

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