January 26, 2018
Wilder Penfield’s 127th birthday
You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to know why we’re celebrating Wilder Penfield’s 127th birthday today, but it doesn’t hurt! Penfield was once considered “the greatest living Canadian” for his trailblazing advancements in mapping the brain and brain surgery techniques to treat epilepsy.
A Rhodes scholar trained at Oxford and Princeton, Penfield believed studying medicine was “the best way to make the world a better place.” Penfield later became Montreal’s first neurosurgeon and established the Montreal Neurological Institute in 1934.
By 1950, he experimented with using electrical probes to treat seizure activity in the brain while a patient was fully awake. This surgery, called the Montreal Procedure, led to a greater discovery: stimulating certain physical parts of the brain could evoke memory recall, like the smell of burnt toast (depicted in today’s Doodle). Penfield’s contributions to modern neuroscience elevated Canada’s global status in healthcare, science, and discovery while his innovations created better lives for people with epilepsy.
In later years, Penfield became an author and a champion of university education and childhood bilingualism, commemorated by the Montreal streets, schools, and universities that bear his name. He was awarded the Lister Medal for surgical science and was inducted into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame. He also became a cultural icon when Philip Dick’s novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?, described the fictional Penfield Mood Organ, a device used to change a mood by “dialing it in” on a number pad.
Happy 127th birthday, Wilder Penfield!