The professor who studied Einstein’s brain
BRAINS! Specifically, Albert Einstein’s. For 26 years, Einstein’s preserved brain was waiting for someone to study it, then – bazinga! – Dr. Marian Diamond made it happen. That ain’t all she’s done, either.
Diamond is a 90-year-old scientist and YouTube sensation who has worked in neuroanatomy for 60 years. She’s the subject of the documentary “My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond,” which is playing at the Durango Independent Film Festival on Friday at 10 a.m. and Saturday at 6 p.m. at the Gaslight Theatre, 102 E. Fifth St.
DGO chatted with Catherine Ryan and Gary Weimberg of Luna Productions about who the heck Dr. Marian Diamond is and why they made a movie about her.
Who is Dr. Marian Diamond?
Gary Weimberg: Two major things: she’s a pioneering researcher and she’s a truly beloved professor. The fact I always mention is that her YouTube anatomy lectures have 1.7 million hits, which makes her the fifth most popular college professor in the world.In terms of hard science, we could call her one of the founders of neuroscience. Her breakthroughs in what we call brain plasticity are one the pillars of neuroscience.
Weimberg: It’s the fact that our brains are not totally determined by our genetics at birth. What we do, how we think, and the environment we are in – whether we are stimulated or not stimulated – has huge effects on our brain ... Marian Diamond says that the brain is similar to any other muscle, you use it or lose it. What’s amazing about this is that people didn’t used to believe that. We were prisoners of our own genetics. She is the first person to ever to have hard evidence that decisively demonstrated that the brain can change based on what you do.Dish more dirt on Dr. Diamond.
Weimberg: She is the first person ever to publish a study on Einstein’s brain. When I say that, there is a “Yeah, duh” factor. Like of course! If you are a brain scientist, of course you would want to study Einstein’s brain. But the fact of the matter is that that happened 26 years after his death. No one else had thought to do that before Marian Diamond. It seems obvious, but this is one of her gifts as a scientist. She has the gift of asking the right question that yields an important answer.How did Luna Productions come to create a Marian Diamond documentary?
Catherine Ryan: We had finished another long-term, in-depth documentary that was about war. It was called “Soldiers of Conscience.” It was in film festivals and it did very well, but it was a grueling experience to spend five years inside the heads of soldiers and really understanding their lives ... Documentaries so often portray the harshness of life. I needed to find something that was not so harsh and maybe even something that was elevating. Not silly, but good news. When I came across Marian Diamond and her anatomy lectures, I was mesmerized and I was not a scientist. I do not come from a science background. The fact that she could turn me on to being interested in hearing the minutia of anatomy, I thought, “I gotta at least meet this woman.”What kind of questions did Dr. Marian Diamond ask?
Ryan: Part of what is so interesting is that Marian Diamond was always looking and asking questions that would result in people having a more enhanced possibility for life. She didn’t do any work on pathology. Which is interesting. Most people who study anatomy and who are in neuroscience study disease. It’s very important work, but it’s so interesting that her questions weren’t about disease. They were questions like, “Can our brain still grow when we are over 90 years old?” and “Are there differences between male and female brains?” and “What might those differences mean?” Questions about potential.What do you think the impact of the film is?
Weimberg: If you are empowered to understand your own brain, you’re more of who you are. You are better able to deal with the world. You are so much improved in the quality of your life. We call it the Marian Diamond effect. You watch her for an hour and you really can have your whole life changed for the better.There’s also an educational level. Marian is retired from teaching, but if this film can continue her teaching to tens of thousands more students, that’s good for society. Marian has, more or less, created a significant part of a generation of doctors and scientists through her 60 years of teaching. That’s an incredible achievement that I would hope, in some way, could go on forever.
Documenting Marian Diamond means preserved brains laying around. What’s it like being around brains?
Weimberg: What you don’t know is how stinky that brain in the hat box is. If you think it is gross visually, wait till you smell it. WHOOO – people leave the room! It’s the formaldehyde.Check out “My Love Affair with the Brain: The Life and Science of Dr. Marian Diamond” and other rad movies at the Durango Independent Film Festival. More info at http://durangofilm.org.
This interview has been edited and condensed for space and clarity.Editor’s note: DGO is an official sponsor of the 2017 Durango Independent Film Festival. Patty TempletonDGO Staff Writer