X-Ray of Einstein's Brain
[Einstein, Albert. (1879—1955)] Bucky, Dr. Gustav (1880—1963). Lateral View of Albert Einstein’s Skull. X-Ray photograph, 1945. Presumed later printing. 10 x 12 inches (25.2 x 30.2 cm). Fine on standard X-ray transparent stock.
In 1945, Dr. Gustav Bucky performed a plain skull x-ray (anterior-posterior and lateral views) on his friend, Albert Einstein. The two scientists were both trained in Switzerland – Bucky in Geneva, Einstein in Zurich, and both emigrated to the United States as refugees from Nazi Europe in 1933. They met that year, and the two became close friends for the rest of their lives. Bucky and his wife were the signatory witnesses to Einstein’s petition for naturalization in 1935, and Bucky was in attendance when the great scientist died twenty years later.
Gustav Bucky and Albert Einstein, Leo Baeck Institute, F 5347B.
Trained as a physician, Bucky was by profession a radiologist. He had first emigrated to the United States in 1923 to practice medicine in New York but returned to Germany in 1929 to serve as the head of the X-Ray department of the Rudolph Virchow Hospital in Berlin. Invention was his passion. He received his first patent in 1913 for what came to be called a Bucky diaphragm, a grid of lead strips used to reduce visual artifacts on X-rays caused by secondary radiation. In 1925 he discovered Grenz waves, a form of low-level radiation used in therapy. By the time of his passing, Bucky had received almost 150 patents. Einstein was no stranger to scientific tinkering himself – his first employment was as a patent clerk in Zurich, where he worked from 1902 to 1909, and he had worked on several inventions of his own. Bucky and Einstein collaborated on several projects. In 1936 they received a patent for an automatic camera that used a sensor to adjust the amount of light admitted to the photographic plate.
Bucky and Einstein’s patent for a “light intensity self-adjusting camera,” 1935.
It was likely in the spirit of scientific inquiry that Bucky photographed Einstein’s brain with this x-ray of 1945. “Could this have been nascent neuroanatomical research?” asks Frederick E. Lepore in his history of the life of Einstein’s brain. Lepore suggests that Bucky’s x-rays may have been part of a larger effort to analyze the physical manifestations of genius which culminated in series of experiments conducted by Alejandro P. Arellano Zapatero, who in 1950 used electroencephalography (EEG) to assess the brain waves of Einstein, John Van Neumann, and Norbert Wiener.
Dr. Arellano Zapatero measures Einstein’s brainwaves, 1950
While Bucky’s x-rays were executed in 1945, copies appear to have been made at a later date. This one is somewhat smaller than the size one associates with modern x-rays. Another copy of this lateral view of Einstein’s skull, together with an anterior-posterior view, was sold for $38,750 at auction in 2010.
A fascinating artifact.
- Bucky, Peter A. and Allen G. Weakland. The private Albert Einstein. Andrews and McMeel, 1992.
- Falk, Dean, Frederick E. Lepore and Adrianne Noe. The cerebral cortex of Albert Einstein: a description and preliminary analysis of unpublished photographs. Brain 136 (2013): 304-1327
- Gustav P. Bucky, M.D. [obituary] Radiology. 81 (July 1, 1963): 141. doi: 10.1148/81.1.141.
- Illy, József. The practical Einstein: experiments, patents, inventions. Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012.
- Kevles, Bettyann. Naked to the bone: medical imaging in the twentieth century. Rutgers University Press, 1997.
- Lepore, Frederick E. Finding Einstein’s brain. Rutgers University Press, 2018.