This is a blog dedicated to a personal interpretation of political news of the day. I attempt to be as knowledgeable as possible before commenting and committing my thoughts to a day's communication.

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Ageless Cerebral Researcher

"We reached an agreement, right then and there. He [driving instructor] let me pass the [driving] test, and I promised never to drive."
"You see, my spatial skills aren't so good. That's primarily a right-brain function."
"People think because I'm 98 years old I must be emerita [retired with grace]. Well, not at all. I'm still nosy, you know, curious."
"I come into the office [at McGill University, as a senior/senior researcher] about three days a week or so, that is plenty."
"And I have some rules. I will take on post-doctoral students, but not graduate students. Graduate students need to know you'll be around for five years or so, and well -- well, it's very difficult if they have to switch to someone else, you know."
"I live very close [to the university and her office]. It's a ten-minute walk up the hill. So it gives me a good reason to come in regularly."
Dr. Brenda Milner, psychology professor, McGill University
Dr. Brenda Milner in her office at the Montreal Neurological Institute and Hospital last month. Credit Aaron Vincent Elkaim for The New York Times

In 1962, Dr. Milner demonstrated that the brain has at least two systems for processing memory. One whose function is explicit in the handling of names, faces and experiences. And the other implicit in incorporating skills such as riding a bicycle, playing a guitar, practising dance steps. Earlier, in 1957 her research was instrumental in changing the course of brain science understanding when a paper she wrote with a brain surgeon concluded that the hippocampus in the medial temporal area of the brain was critical to memory formation.

Even before that, with doctorate in hand, she identified the specific brain organ critical to memory formation, by observing a 29-year-old man from Connecticut who had undergone an operation to relieve severe epileptic seizures. She worked with that patient to demonstrate that his motor memory remained intact, recalling how to perform physical drawing tests, even though lacking the memory of having learned them to begin with.

Dr. Milner, now 98 years of age and determined to continue working and conducting research, may have been unable to satisfy the basic moves in parallel parking, but her brain could always be relied upon to work in overdrive. As a professor of psychology in the McGill department of neurology and neurosurgery in Montreal, she is known for having discovered the seat of memory in the brain.  Its relevance to cognitive neuroscience cannot be overstated.

Her career has spanned close to 70 years of professional life and she has no intention of surrendering it simply because of advanced age.

Her brilliance as a researcher and her single-minded devotion to her craft ensured that if gender barriers to advancement existed, she took little notice of them and simply forged ahead to achieve her goals, and in so doing earned her international reputation as a neuro-cognitive researcher par excellence. No one, either McGill University or the Montreal Neurological Institute affiliated with the university has suggested she step aside.

Funding is available to her through three prominent achievement awards granted her in 2014, providing research money. Her current project focuses on an ongoing study to investigate how the healthy brain's intellectual left hemisphere's co-ordination with the aesthetic right hemisphere in thinking and memory comes about as a vital feature of the human brain. The biology of memory is her bailiwick.
Neuroscience Pioneer, Dr. Brenda Milner       Yannick Grandmont, New York Times

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