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Brenda Milner wins International Balzan Prize

Published: 8 Sep 2009

About $1 million for her seminal work in cognitive neurosciences

About $1 million for her seminal work in cognitive neurosciences

Dr. Brenda Milner, the Dorothy J. Killam Professor at the Montreal Neurological Institute, McGill University, is one of four recipients of the prestigious International Balzan Prize for 2009. Each awardee will receive approximately $1 million CDN (one million swiss francs), half of which must be designated for research. The announcement was made by the Balzan Foundation Monday in Milan, Italy.

Milner has had an extraordinary influence on the shape of neuroscience. The origins of modern cognitive neuroscience of memory can be traced directly to her rigorous and imaginative studies. Milner's research focuses on cognitive function in the frontal and temporal lobes of the human brain. Nobel Laureate Eric Kandel credits Milner with taking the critical step of merging the fields of neurobiology and psychology to form this new field that has spawned a vast body of research in human cognition and has broad implications for the treatment of patients. The creative and precise methodology developed by Milner to study amnesic and other patients led her to conclusions that radically changed the way we think about memory, and were so subtle and refined that it was almost 25 years before a useful animal model would be developed.

Milner remains active in the field and inspires students whenever she lectures. She has received numerous accolades throughout her almost six-decade long career. Milner is a foreign associate of the National Academy of Sciences (USA). She was elected to the Academy in 1976 and was also elected to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 2005. She has been awarded honorary degrees from an astounding 19 different universities, here and abroad. She is the recipient of numerous academic awards including the Gairdner International Award in 2005 and the Prix Wilder-Penfield (Prix du Québec) in 1993. Milner is a fellow of the Royal Society of London and the Royal Society of Canada and was promoted to Companion of the Order of Canada in 2004. In 2007, Milner created the Brenda Milner Foundation to support and foster young researchers in the field of cognitive neuroscience through postdoctoral fellowships at the MNI.

The 2009 International Balzan Prize winners also include Terence Cave (UK), St John's College, Oxford, for Literature since 1500; Paolo Rossi (Italy), Università di Firenze, for History of Science and Michael Grätzel (Switzerland/Germany), École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne, for the Science of New Materials. Dr. Milner was awarded a Balzan Prize for Cognitive Neuroscience.

The Balzan Prize award fields vary each year and can be related to either a specific or an interdisciplinary field, and look to go beyond the traditional subjects both in the humanities (literature, the moral sciences and the arts) and in the sciences (medicine and the physical, mathematical and natural sciences), so as to give priority to innovative research.

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