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What Makes a Genius?

Professor Marcus du Sautoy finds out if the brain of a genius is fundamentally different from that of a regular person.

Could you have come up with Einstein's theory of relativity? If not - why not?

This is what Marcus du Sautoy, professor of mathematics, wants to explore. Marcus readily admits that he is no genius, but wants to know if geniuses are just an extreme version of himself - or whether their brains are fundamentally different.

Marcus meets some remarkable individuals - Tommy, an obsessive artist who uses his whole house as his canvas; Derek: blind, autistic, and a pianist with apparently prodigious gifts; Claire, who is also blind, but whose brain has learnt to see using sound.

Marcus is shown how babies have remarkable abilities which most of us lose as teenagers. He meets a neuroscientist who claims he has evidence of innate ability, a scientist who's identified a gene for learning, and Dr. Paulus, who has discovered how to sharpen the brain... by electrically turbo-charging it.

59 minutes

Last on

Sat 27 Feb 2010 00:35


Timings (where shown) are from the start of the programme in hours and minutes

  • What Makes a Genius? Introduction

    Marcus du Sautoy asks if people are born geniuses, or if it’s a case of hard work. Can people achieve anything they set their mind to, or is it the make-up of their brain?

    Duration: 06:21

  • What Makes a Genius? Brain Dissection

    Scientists believed that studying a brain would be able to show if someone was a genius. Now, one scientist believes there are structural differences in the brain of an intelligent person.

    Duration: 03:48

  • What Makes a Genius? Are Geniuses Born or Made?

    A test at John Hopkins University, involving coloured spots, tries to show if people have a natural talent for mathematics.

    Duration: 05:45

  • What Makes a Genius? The Genius Gene

    Marcus explores the notion that genes affect genius by witnessing an experiment in which mice are incapable of learning, if a certain gene has been ‘switched off’.

    Duration: 06:56

  • What Makes a Genius? Predicting Potential

    Marcus acts as a guinea pig while playing chess to see if he was born to be a champion. This theory is explored further when a baby undergoes testing to see how flexible her brain is.

    Duration: 09:35

  • What Makes a Genius? Environment

    Derek is autistic and blind, yet he can learn to play a piece of music after only hearing it twice, but given the circumstance, how is this possible?

    Duration: 04:22

  • What Makes a Genius? Children’s Brains

    The world’s largest survey of brains is trying to determine when and why a child’s brain stops developing at the rate it does.

    Duration: 03:56

  • What Makes a Genius? Enhancing Intelligence

    Stimulating the brain using electricity and the brain’s fluid is trying to determine if intelligence can be turbocharged and enhanced.

    Duration: 04:11

  • What Makes a Genius? Neural Pathways

    Claire is blind, yet she has the ability to see through sound, but how is the brain working in this way?

    Duration: 04:19

  • What Makes a Genius? Creativity

    Is there a relation between genius and creativity? Marcus visits Tommy, who in 2001 suffered a brain haemorrhage. This haemorrhage has left Tommy with an uncontrollable urge to paint.

    Duration: 09:47


  • Wed 17 Feb 2010 21:00
  • Mon 22 Feb 2010 00:50
  • Sat 27 Feb 2010 00:35