A few months ago I was fascinated by a 90-year-old neuroscientist who carried a brain around in a flowered hat box. Marian Diamond had made tremendous strides in research of how the brain works and had first access to Einstein’s brain.
Now I’ve read about a 98-year-old woman still doing research on the brain with a specialty in human memory. (It’s hard to communicate with elephants.) She is best known for discovering the seat of memory in the brain. She had access to a victim of epilepsy involved in a famous case where brain surgery cured the man of frequent seizures but destroyed his ability to form new memories of people and events. Her study of the man led her to dispute the notion that memory is diffused throughout the brain and instead resides in the hippocampus. The fact the man could still learn motor skills led to the discovery that the two types of memory are independent. The term “muscle memory” is not just a glib description of remembering how to ride a bike but reflects the fact that a separate part of the brain is in charge.(Well, no, the memory is not in the muscle, but it may as well be as we don’t sense our brains dictating our physical steps.)
While most of Dr. Milner’s research involved studying people who suffered brain injuries, she also observed MRIs while people solved problems to study how the right and left halves of our brain work together to form memories..
Unlike Marian Diamond, Brenda Milner is still working—at McGill University in Montreal. She says it’s because she’s still nosy, as she describes her intellectual curiosity. Her only concession to her age is that she no longer accepts PhD students since they can take up to five years to complete their work, and at 98, well . . .
Like Dr. Diamond, Dr. Milner is criticized for not taking time for social activism on behalf of women. I think their significant success makes them wonderful role models. That’s so huge, they can be forgiven for not leading the recent Women’s March.