Published November 08, 2011
At 93-years-old, Brenda Milner is responsible for some of the biggest discoveries in the science of memory.
And she’s still working today, at McGill University in Montreal, Canada.
She’s also the winner of the prestigious Pearl Meister Greengard Prize for her achievements, which includes $100,000 in award money.
"I looked at the list of these distinguished ladies who have preceded me and they are very much basic scientists, and mine, behavioral science, is a little different than other science, so that made it all a bigger surprise I think," Milner said.
Dr. Manny Alvarez, senior managing health editor of FoxNews.com, recently met with Milner and Nobel Prize winner Paul Greengard – the founder of Pearl Meister Greengard Prize – at Rockefeller University in New York City.
Greengard used his own prize money to establish the award, which honors a female scientist each year.
He said he started the award because he’s seen a lot of discrimination against women in his field, and he named it after his mother.
“She died giving birth to me, and from everything I’ve heard, she was a brilliant woman,” Greengard said.“And she had no opportunity to go into an interesting career in the time she was a young lady.”
Milner said she always had an interest in math, so she attended Cambridge University in London. There, she discovered her love for science.
"Memory was not a fashionable topic when I began to work on it,” she said. “And I worked on it because the patients had memory problems. And when the patients come to you and says they have trouble with your memory, you don't say, ‘Oh I'm not interested in that, I'm working on something else.’ You say, ‘Well, do you really have a memory problem? Let's see.’"
A distinguished committee made up of 10 people – five of whom are Nobel winners – selected Milner as this year’s winner.
The recipients of the Greengard Prize are said to be on the ‘short list’ for other honors, including the Nobel Prize.
"I've been very gratified about that. One of the reasons I gave the money, is that I thought it might enhance the chances of women to win very high prizes," Greengard said.
Milner said she is going to give her prize money to The Brenda Milner Foundation, which she created from her life savings and other prize monies invested over the span of her career. The Foundation supports postdoctoral fellowships in cognitive neuroscience at the Montreal Neurological Institute.