Free enamel pin when you buy any two Atlas Obscura products. Shop now.

Austin, Texas

Brain Collection at the University of Texas at Austin

A collection of 100 brains preserved in jars on the UT campus. 

Somewhere in the vast hallways of the University of Texas at Austin, there is a collection of the brains of roughly 100 former psychiatric patients. The brains in this collection were preserved in jars of formaldehyde to be used for research and educational purposes. Yet about half of them sat mostly ignored for 30 years. 

 

In the mid-1980s, the Austin State Hospital had run out of room to store the collection of brains that had been harvested from patients at the former psychiatric hospital. So about 200 brains were transferred to the University of Texas’ psychology department to be used as a teaching tool.

The psychology lab only had room for about half of the brains, however, so the other 100 or so were kept in the basement of the school’s Animal Resources Center. Then, in 2014, an audit reported that the basement brains had mysteriously gone missing. Rumors started circulating that the jars had been stolen, though it’s possible the university had simply kept poor records and was never quite sure how many brains were in the collection in the first place.

According to some reports, the brain of Charles Whitman, the infamous shooter behind a tragic shooting spree at the university in 1966, was among them, as there was a large tumor on his brain. However one of the curators of the collection is skeptical as to whether that is just urban legend. In any case, all the brains specimens were anonymized per federal law.

The 100 or so brains currently preserved at the university’s psychology department were sent through MRI equipment and are still actively used for educational purposes.

Contributed by
Rachel
Edited by