Among human history's select handful of world-changingly brilliant people, perhaps no one in modern times is more synonymous with genius than Albert Einstein. He shattered and then remade our understanding of time itself. He explained gravity and how it impacted celestial objects and the things that orbit them. And he articulated the frightening symbiosis between matter and energy when he put to paper the most famous equation in history: E=MC2. His iconic popular image -- the out-of-control hair and the playful tongue sticking out -- is cemented in the public consciousness. We say things like "Sure, so-and-so may be smart, but he's no Einstein" because no other comparison would make such immediate sense to anyone who heard it. Einstein and intelligence are used interchangeably.
But how smart, really, was he? Did he ever take an IQ test? Was there something structurally different about Einstein's brain than the rest of ours? Was it physically bigger? Or did he somehow just use more of the same cranial real estate than anyone else? Why did his brain produce works of genius? Such questions have intrigued people for many years, so much so that after his death, pieces of Einstein's brain were sliced away like cantaloupe and parceled out across the globe to scientists searching for clues to his brilliance. They were willing to risk sacrilege (Einstein was cremated, and it's not entirely clear anyone had permission to preserve, much less dissect, his brain) to find out why the most famous physicist of all time was able to see so many things that others could not.
Let's take a closer look now at Albert Einstein's brain -- literally and figuratively.
What happened to Einstein's brain?
Albert Einstein's body was cremated following his death. Following the autopsy, his brain was salvaged (or stolen, depending on your point of view) by Princeton Hospital pathologist Thomas Harvey. Harvey hoped to unlock the secrets of what made Einstein a genius by sending more than 200 carefully prepared pieces of the great mind's brain to leading scientists around the world. Near the end of his life, having tried and failed to find its magical secrets, Harvey returned Einstein's brain to Princeton Hospital, giving it to another pathologist there, who essentially held the same job as Harvey had.
Was Einstein's brain any different from the rest of us?
Albert Einstein had an average sized brain. However, Dr. Sandra Witelson, a researcher at McMaster University in Canada, discovered that the renowned physicist's Sylvian fissure - a common feature separating the parietal lobe into two distinct compartments - was almost non-existent. As a result, Einstein's parietal lobe was 15 percent larger than an average male of similar age. The parietal lobe is responsible for a person's mathematical ability, spatial reasoning and three-dimensional visualization. However, not enough is yet understood about how the brain works to identify if this is really what made Einstein a genius.
What is the relationship between the brain and genius?
Scientists have proven that the size of certain parts of the brain, such as the cerebral cortex and the parietal lobe in particular, is a better indication of higher intelligence than the size of the entire brain. However, studying the brain is laden with challenges and scientists are still trying to discern how intelligence and genius can be quantified and studied. While many theories exist as to what makes a person intelligent, as well as numerous standardized IQ tests and psychometric assessments to evaluate a person's language memory, and other skills, many scientists believe that these don't really determine who is a "genius." Many believe that the essential difference between being really smart and being a genius is having abundant creativity to produce something previously unthought-of.