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The Search for Genius: Einstein’s Brain

news editor15 March 2012

Dr Mark Lythgoe (UCL Centre for Advanced Biomedical Imaging) took the audience of his Lunch Hour Lecture on 13 March on a journey to explore the greatest brain of the 20th century. The lecture to mark Brain Awareness Week drew in a large crowd; potentially explained by the promise of seeing a real brain!

The journey began with a video clip of Dr Lythgoe and Dr Jim Al-Khalili from the programme The Riddle of Einstein’s Brain (Channel 4, National Geographic USA, 2005). The two presenters were getting into a red convertible in southern California and setting off in search of the brain of Albert Einstein.

The presenters could not agree, however, on where genius originates from and consequently where it can be found. Is genius determined by biology and therefore can Einstein’s brain show us how? Or is genius a culturally dependent term that lives in the ideas produced?

Dr Lythgoe threw the question to the audience: “Did Einstein need to have published his work to be considered a genius? Or if he had done exactly the same amount of work and drawn the same conclusions, but never published, would he still be a genius?”

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Mapping the Mind

Frances-Catherine Quevenco14 June 2011

Optical illusion

Can a person’s neuroanatomy tell them about who they are? This was one of the most intriguing questions asked at a talk with Prof. Robert Turner, director of Neurophysics at the Max-Planck Institute, and Geraint Rees, director of the Institute of Cognitive Neuroscience at UCL.

Unlike the other talks I had been to, I had decided to bring two guests sans science-background along for the ride, hoping that after the lecture they too would share my enthusiasm for neuroscience. Professor Robert Turner began with an introduction to the realm of neuroscience, covering the birth of phrenology by Franz Joseph Gall to Maguire’s study on increased hippocampi in taxi drivers in 2000. Geraint Rees then proceeded to address the question of whether an individual’s brain structure played a role in determining how they saw the world. Rees pointed out that in fact the visual cortices of different individuals differ two- or three-fold, so does this affect how we see?

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