1997 INDUCTEE Brenda Milner, PhD Brain & Mind, Women in Medicine

Born:

July 15, 1918

(Manchester, England )

Education:

MA, Cambridge University (1949)

PhD, McGill University (1952)

Awards & Honours:

2018: International Lifetime Achievement Award, Mensa Foundation

2018: Companion of the Order of Montreal

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Picture of Brenda Milner, PhD

Merged psychology and neurology and shaped the field of cognitive neuroscience

Dr. Brenda Milner

A pioneer of the discipline of neuropsychology

Filled with boundless curiosity and unwavering determination, Dr. Brenda Milner’s aptitude for discovery has made her a champion of unlocking the mysteries of the human brain. Her unbridled enthusiasm for scientific inquiry inspired significant interest in human memory, as well as established an important foundation for the field of cognitive neuroscience.

A career defining moment came in 1955 when Dr. Milner was introduced to an epilepsy patient known as “HM.” Following a radical surgical treatment for epilepsy, HM had lost his ability to convert short-term memory into long-term. Three decades of meticulous experimentation with HM would be a catalyst to Dr. Milner’s distinguished research career, as she discovered that the human brain has multiple memory and processing systems.

Key Facts

Became the first Dorothy Killam Professor of Neurology and Neurosurgery at MNI and McGill University

Conducted long term studies of patients before and after brain excisions, in particular, for epilepsy cases.

Contributed to our understanding of the functions of the hippocampus and the temporal, frontal and parietal lobes in learning, memory and speech functions.

Her findings lead to an ethical shift discouraging neurosurgeons from performing surgeries that could have lasting negative impacts on the lives of their patients

Honoured with over 100 awards and honorary degrees

Professional timeline

Impact on lives today

Dr. Milner is considered to be one of the greatest neuroscientists of the 20th century as her work has opened possibilities for the treatment of many debilitating illnesses including epilepsy, brain cancer and dementia. In her current research, Dr. Milner uses positron emission tomography (PET) and functional MRI (fMRI) to identify the brain regions involved in processing language in unilateral and bilingual subjects. She also explores how the two hemispheres of the brain cooperate in normal memorial retrieval processes. This research will help other researchers better understand how visual memory supports the processes of more abstract memories such as the meaning of words.

Picture of Brenda Milner, PhD

1990

  • Brenda Milner inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame

    London, Ontario

  • After many years as Director of the MNI’s Neuropsychology/Cognitive Neuroscience Unit, Milner became the Dorothy J. Killiam Professor of Psychology.

    Even at the age of 102, she remains an active researcher.

  • Milner published another groundbreaking article

    Brain & Mind

    She successfully linked brain structure to function when she demonstrated the role of the temporal lobe in memory.

  • Milner began working with “HM”

    Brain & Mind

    Her work sparked global interest, encouraging researchers to unlock the many mysteries surrounding the inner workings of the human brain.

  • Brenda Milner authored a now renowned publication, “Intellectual Function of the Temporal Lobes"

    Brain & Mind

    In the article, she pinpointed how damage to the temporal lobe can significantly alter the emotional and intellectual abilities in humans and lower primates.

  • Upon completion of her studies, she declined a tenured position at McGill University to continue her work with Dr. Wilder Penfield.

    Her diligent and energetic nature attracted an abundance of graduate students to study under her tutelage, many of whom went on to develop clinical neuropsychology units in university and teaching hospitals throughout Canada and the world.

  • Looking to conduct research of her own, Milner persuaded Dr. Donald Hebb, the Chair of Psychology at McGill University, to accept her as a graduate student.

    In 1950 she resumed her academic studies at the Montreal Neurological Institute (MNI) and McGill University. In 1952, she received a PhD for an investigation of the intellectual effects of temporal lobe damage in humans.

  • Milner moved to Montreal, Quebec when her husband was invited to work on atomic research in Canada

    Milner joined the Institut de psychologie at the Université de Montréal and continued her studies. She earned her MA in experimental psychology from Cambridge in 1949.

  • Milner received her bachelor’s degree in experimental psychology from Cambridge University

    After graduation, she was recruited for the war effort to devise perceptual tests used in the selection of aircrew.

1940

She motivates people to do and achieve.