Curious Fact of the Week: Biggest Brain Collections - Atlas Obscura

Curious Fact of the Week: Biggest Brain Collections


All the secrets of human consciousness may be embedded somewhere in the squishy brains nestled in our skulls. This drive to find out what’s hidden in our mental anatomy has resulted in medical specimen collections of brains all over the world. The Wilder Brain Collection in Ithaca, New York, has around 70 brains; the Cushing Brain Collection in New Haven, Connecticut, has around 550. But this is nothing compared to the around 3,300 brains kept at the Brain Museum in Lima. 

article-imageWilder Brain Collection in the 1950s (via hastinggraham/Flickr user)

The Wilder Brain Collection at Cornell University was actually once much larger, with more than 600 brains having been amassed from corpse craniums between the 19th and 20th centuries by Dr. Burt Green Wilder, whose own brain even became part of the collection after his passing. Unfortunately, brains are fragile things, and years of neglect and poor storage resulted in only about 70 surviving. 

article-imageCushing Brain Collection (courtesy Cushing/Whitney Medical Library)

A grid of about 400 delicately-lit jars line the walls of the Cushing Brain Collection at Yale’s medical school library, with another 150 in storage in states of conservation. The collection was created by Harvey Cushing at the beginning of the 20th century, an impressive brainiac himself who was both a groundbreaking neurosurgeon and Pulitzer Prize-winning author. While it spent the time between its donation in 1939 and 2010 hidden away, and also suffered from disrepair like the Wilder Collection, renewed interest driven by student enthusiasm brought it to its new home.

article-imageBrain Collection in Lima (via

While the Wilder and Cushing collections have some staggering mental mass, the Brain Museum in Lima has an unrivaled holding of about 3,300 brains. The collection started in 1947 and under the current direction of Neuropathologist Diana Rivas it continues its growing focus on diseases of the brain. From the impact of strokes to tumors to the human strain of mad cow disease, the accumulated brains show just how delicate our neural center is to our stability and sense.





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