Wish you had Einstein's brain? There's an App for that

Mathematician and physicist Albert Einstein Photo:

A new iPad app offers the chance to gaze into the mind of a genius as though you were looking through a microscope, according to its developers.

The app consists of hundreds of digital images of the inside of Albert Einstein's brain, and scientists are hoping it will inspire a new generation of neurologists.

A blurb for the app on the iTunes Store website reads:

Neuroscientists, researchers, educators and the general public now have access to Albert Einstein’s brain via this new iPad app that will allow its users to examine the Nobel Prize-winning physicist’s neuroanatomy as if they were sitting in front of a microscope.

– iTunes Store
Part of Albert Einstein's brain - as pictured in the app Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago

After Einstein's death in 1955, a pathologist named Thomas Harvey performed an autopsy on his brain.

He cut it into more than 350 cubes and slivers, which he preserved in formaldehyde in the hope that studying them would shed light on the inner workings of his mind.

But since then very little research has been done on the samples. A 1999 study found that Einstein's parietal lobe - which processes maths, language and spatial relationships - was 15% wider than in normal humans.

The app developers hope that it will spur more studies into existence.

An image from the app showing the high degree of detail Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago

Photographs were taken of the brain samples, and these have been digitised in the new app.

But users of the app will not know exactly which part of Einstein's brain the images relate to due to the technical limitations of the time.

Jacopo Annese a researcher at the Brain Observatory at the University of California, San Diego, said: "They didn't have MRI. We don't have a three-dimensional model of the brain of Einstein, so we don't know where the samples were taken from,"

Nevertheless, "it's a beautiful collection to have opened up to the public," Annese said.

An extreme close up of part of Albert Einstein's brain Credit: National Museum of Health and Medicine Chicago

But as well as raising scientific questions, the release of the app has also raised ethical ones.

Einstein never actually donated his brain to science and although Harvey got permission from his son retrospectively, the genius' wishes are not known.

Steve Landers, who designed the app, believes Einstein "would have been excited" by the potential advances to neuroscience.

A member of the board of the National Museum of Health and Medicine in Silver Spring, Maryland, Jim Pagli, said:

There's been a lot of debate over what Einstein's intentions were ... We know he didn't want a circus made of his remains. But he understood the value to research and science to study his brain, and we think we've addressed that in a respectful manner.

– Jim Pagli, National Museum of Health and Medicine

He added said the app could "inspire a whole new generation of neuroscientists."

The catchily-named 'NMHMC Harvey' can be downloaded for just $9.99 (£6.15) and is only available for iPad.