Skip to Content

The world’s largest collection of malformed brains

The 100 or so jars contain brains that once belonged to patients at the Austin State Hospital, a psychiatric facility.

collection of human brainscollection of human brains
Adam Voorhes & Robin Finlay

These cross-sections of a human brain were used for teaching. The collection had been neglected for decades when photographer Adam Voorhes first visited, in 2011. These images are taken from a book he published about the brains, coauthored with Alex Hannaford.

ADAM VOORHES & ROBIN FINLAY

The University of Texas has one of the world’s largest collections of preserved abnormal human brains. The 100 or so jars contain brains that once belonged to patients at the Austin State Hospital, a psychiatric facility. They were amassed over three decades by Coleman de Chenar, the hospital’s resident pathologist, starting in the 1950s.

ADAM VOORHES & ROBIN FINLAY
ADAM VOORHES & ROBIN FINLAY

One jar, labeled “Down’s Syndrome” (above), appears to contain more than one brain, and possibly other internal organs. Many jars are missing labels; little is known about the people whose brains these were.

Some abnormalities are obvious, like lissencephaly, or “smooth brain,” a neurological disorder that usually leads to an early death. Many of the brains appear superficially normal but reveal swelling or hemorrhage once dissected. The collection has been scanned by MRI machines.

ADAM VOORHES & ROBIN FINLAY
ADAM VOORHES & ROBIN FINLAY

Correction: The original version of this article named Tim Schallert as the curator for the collection, but he passed away in 2018. The current manager for the collection is Marie Monfils.

Deep Dive

Biotechnology

conceptual illustration of a stork with a baby
conceptual illustration of a stork with a baby

How Silicon Valley hatched a plan to turn blood into human eggs

A well-connected startup company is trying to rewrite the rules of reproduction.

Death and Jeff Bezos
Death and Jeff Bezos

Meet Altos Labs, Silicon Valley’s latest wild bet on living forever

Funders of a deep-pocketed new "rejuvenation" startup are said to include Jeff Bezos and Yuri Milner.

The miracle molecule that could treat brain injuries and boost your fading memory

Discovered more than a decade ago, a remarkable compound shows promise in treating everything from Alzheimer’s to brain injuries—and it just might improve your cognitive abilities.

brain interface with cursor concept
brain interface with cursor concept

Brain implants could be the next computer mouse

What the world’s fastest brain-typist is telling us about the future of computer interfaces.

Stay connected

Illustration by Rose WongIllustration by Rose Wong

Get the latest updates from
MIT Technology Review

Discover special offers, top stories, upcoming events, and more.

Thank you for submitting your email!

Explore more newsletters

It looks like something went wrong.

We’re having trouble saving your preferences. Try refreshing this page and updating them one more time. If you continue to get this message, reach out to us at customer-service@technologyreview.com with a list of newsletters you’d like to receive.