"Maps" of Albert Einstein's Brain on Display at Medical Museum

Photos, hand-drawn maps and glass slides show different views of the brain of Albert Einstein

Photos, hand-drawn maps and glass slides show different views of the brain of Albert Einstein, on display in the new "What Can We Learn from a Brain?" exhibit at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Md. The temporary exhibit is on display through May 2013. (Photo courtesy of NMHM)

Microscopically thin sections of Albert Einstein's brain are now on display at the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Silver Spring, Md., as part of an installation titled "What Can We Learn from a Brain?" This temporary exhibit will be on display through May 31, 2013.

In 1955, pathologist Dr. Thomas Harvey performed an autopsy on Professor Albert Einstein and preserved the brain for study. Several years after Harvey passed away, his estate contributed Harvey's slides and related archival material to the NMHM. The slides and other materials are managed by the NMHM's Otis Historical Archives.

"Dr. Harvey made a life-long commitment to preserving and studying this very unique specimen, and NMHM has been entrusted with the legacy he left behind," said Dr. Adrianne Noe, NMHM director.

The new exhibit features "maps" and photographs Harvey prepared while processing the brain before, during and after the sectioning process in the months after Einstein died. These photographs and maps have never been on public display, and are made available now for the first time, showing the means by which sectioned brain slides can be associated with their location in the brain. These resources may offer insights into understanding what made Einstein's brain so unusual, and these may also demonstrate the care taken by Harvey to protect this material for future scholarly work.

"What Can We Learn from a Brain?" will also discuss the simple act of observation as part of the study of the brain. Specimens on display are real examples of disease, trauma or conditions that can affect the brain, and that can be observed by the unaided eye. Sections and whole brain material will offer visitors the chance to understand the importance of visual observation of the brain as part of diagnosing diseases such as Alzheimer's or cancer.

Additionally, "What Can We Learn from a Brain?" will include the brain of Charles Guiteau, who assassinated President James Garfield in 1881. Guiteau appeared mad or insane at the time of the shooting. After his execution, his brain was preserved and studied by pathologists at the Army Medical Museum (the progenitor of today's NMHM).

To inspire the next generation of brain researchers, the "Einstein Brain Atlas" iPad app (published last year through a collaborative research and development agreement with NMHM Chicago) has been maximized as a museum interactive via a 60-inch interactive display. Visitors can interact with hundreds of life-size, ultra-high resolution slides of the Einstein's neuroanatomy via a virtual microscope system.

"This exciting project represents the first time a cloud-based iPad application of this scale has been adapted to stand alone in a museum environment," said Dr. Michael Doyle, chairman of NMHM Chicago. "We faced significant technical challenges to create a system which provides the same 10 terabytes of Einstein neuroanatomical images that the Einstein Brain Atlas iPad app delivers over the Internet, only in a museum exhibit running an internal virtual cloud. The virtual microscope system that looks cool running on a 10" iPad looks amazing running on a 60-inch interactive display in the museum."

Also included in the exhibit is the first ever 3D model of Einstein's brain, created using multiple reference photos at different angles.

NMHM is located at 2500 Linden Lane in Silver Spring, Md., and is open daily (including weekends and holidays) from 10 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is free. For more information, please call (301) 319-3300 or visit NMHM's website at http://www.medicalmuseum.mil.

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Last Modified Date: 11-Apr-2013