Marian Diamond (right) and Albert Einstein, whose brain she studied. Marian Diamond (right) and Albert Einstein, whose brain she studied. Marian Diamond (right) and Albert Einstein, whose brain she studied. (Photo: Elena Zhukova/UC Berkeley)

Woman who studied Einstein's brain passes away

After a pathologist stole the genius's brain, neuroscientist Marian Diamond came to the rescue.

When Albert Einstein passed away on April 18, 1955, the Princeton pathologist who was performing the autopsy actually stole the physicist's brain. He wanted to know if Einstein's genius of a brain was somehow different than those of average people.

"It's a macabre story. It was a scandal. It was done against the will of his family," Hanoch Gutfreund, the director of the Albert Einstein Archives at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, told From The Grapevine.

But something positive did come out of that twisted tale. The pathologist cut up the brain into many sections and sent them to researchers all around the world. One of those who received a snippet was Dr. Marian Diamond, a renowned neuroscientist at the University of California, Berkeley. She compared parts of Einstein's brain to the preserved brains of 11 other men. She discovered that Einstein had more glial cells per neuron than the average male brains of the control group.

Diamond was 90 when she passed away last week, and she will be remembered for more than just her work on the three-pound mass that was Einstein's brain. Her research was particularly focused on how the brain is elastic and the specific ways in which we can help it grow. She narrowed that list down to five main categories: Diet, exercise, challenge, newness and love.

“Her research demonstrated the impact of enrichment on brain development – a simple but powerful new understanding that has literally changed the world, from how we think about ourselves to how we raise our children,” said UC Berkeley colleague George Brooks, a professor of integrative biology. “Dr. Diamond showed anatomically, for the first time, what we now call plasticity of the brain. In doing so she shattered the old paradigm of understanding the brain as a static and unchangeable entity that simply degenerated as we age.”

Her pioneering work lives on in the books she wrote and the many anatomy lectures she gave. One has received more than a million views on YouTube.

"I spent more than 60 years studying the brain – and it was pure joy," Diamond said in a 2016 documentary, "My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond." Among her last words were, “If you’re going to live life, you’ve got to be all in.”

Still curious about Einstein's brain? Many pieces of it now reside at the Mütter Museum in Philadelphia. The building contains a collection of medical oddities, anatomical and pathological specimens, wax models and antique medical equipment.

On Thursday of this week, our correspondent Ilana E. Strauss will be conducting a Facebook Live tour of the Einstein exhibit at the museum, including an interview with the curator. So check out our Facebook page at 9 a.m. Thursday to join in.

The room where Einstein's autopsy took place.The room where Einstein's autopsy took place, as depicted in the NatGeo "Genius" series. (Photo: Dusan Matincek/National Geographic)

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