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Brenda Milner


Brenda Milner (Photo credit: © Owen Egan/McGill, University).

Brenda Milner is a Professor in the Department of Neurology and Neurosurgery at McGill University and a Professor of Psychology at the Montreal Neurological Institute. Her career has spanned more than six decades, and during her distinguished career she has made seminal discoveries in the area of memory systems.

She was born in Manchester, England and graduated from Cambridge University with a BA degree in experimental psychology. Milner was awarded a Research Studentship by Newnham College, Cambridge for two years. However, as a result of World War II, the work of the Cambridge Psychological Laboratory that she was based in was diverted to applied research in the selection of aircrew. Milner’s position in this was to devise perceptual tasks for future use in selecting aircrew. Following their marriage, she and her husband moved to Canada. Brenda Milner became a PhD candidate in psychophysiology at McGill University, under the direction of the distinguished Donald O. Hebb. In 1950, Hebb gave Milner an opportunity to study with Wilder Penfield at the Montreal Neurological Institute, where she studied the behavior of epileptic patients treated with focal ablation of brain tissue. In 1952, Milner earned her PhD in experimental psychology.

It was during this time that Milner met and began her seminal work with Henry Molaison, an epilepsy patient who suffered severe memory impairment following the removal of the medial temporal lobe on both sides of his brain. This work led Milner to speculate that there are different types of learning and memory, each dependent on a separate system of the brain. Nobel Prize winner Eric Kandel described her work as creating the new field of cognitive neuroscience by merging neurology and psychology.

More recently, she has expanded her research to the study of brain activity in normal subjects using functional magnetic resonance imaging and positron emission tomography. These studies focus on the identification of brain regions associated with spatial memory and language.

Her scientific contributions have been recognized by more than 20 honorary degrees and many prestigious awards from international scientific societies. She is a fellow of the Royal Society (UK), the Royal Society of Canada, and the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, and has received numerous prizes and awards including the International Balzan Prize, the Pearl Meister Greengard Prize, Gairdner International Award, and the NSERC Award of Excellence. In 2007, she established the Brenda Milner Foundation to support postdoctoral fellowships in cognitive neuroscience at the Montreal Neurological Institute.

Life story Brenda Milner

Brenda Milner (Photo credit: © Owen Egan/McGill, University).

The brain is made up of different regions, each with specialised functions: White matter tracts throughout the human brain (Photocredit: © Dr Jamie Kawadler).

Read the life story of Kavli Prize Laureate Brenda Milner:

Exciting Challenges


Brenda Milner Investigates Memory.