Suzanne Corkin

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Suzanne Corkin
Born Suzanne Hammond
(1937-05-18)May 18, 1937
Hartford, Connecticut, U.S.
Died May 24, 2016(2016-05-24) (aged 79)
Danvers, Massachusetts, U.S.
Nationality American
Education Smith College (B.A.)
McGill University (M.Sc., Ph.D.)
Occupation Professor
Spouse(s) Charles Corkin (divorced)
Children Jocelyn
Website Archived Sept. 28, 2013

Suzanne Corkin (May 18, 1937 – May 24, 2016) was an American professor of neuroscience in the Department of Brain and Cognitive Sciences at MIT.[1] She was a leading scholar in neuropsychology and cognitive neuroscience. She is best known for her research on human memory, which she studied in patients with Alzheimer's disease, Parkinson's disease, and amnesia. She is also well known for studying H.M., a man with memory loss whom she met in 1962 and studied until his death in 2008.

Early life and education[edit]

Suzanne Corkin was born Suzanne Janet Hammond in Hartford, Connecticut, the daughter of Lester and Mabelle Dowling Hammond.[citation needed] She studied psychology at Smith College in Massachusetts, and obtained a PhD at McGill University in Montreal, Canada, supervised by Brenda Milner. Milner studied a man named Henry Molaison, who had sustained severe memory loss as a result of brain surgery for uncontrolled epileptic seizures. Corkin met him in 1962 and tested his memory relating to his sense of touch "Somesthetic function after focal cerebral damage" which became the subject of her PhD.[2]


After she completed her PhD in 1964 she moved to the US Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), to join the laboratory of Hans-Lukas Teuber. In 1977, when Teuber passed away, Dr. Corkin became director of the human neuropsychology laboratory and, in 1981, was promoted directly from the position of Principal Research Scientist to Associate Professor with tenure. At the time, fewer than 10% of all faculty in the MIT School of Sciences were female, making Dr. Corkin's career trajectory all the more remarkable.

From that point forward, Dr. Corkin directed the Behavioral Neuroscience Laboratory, making seminal contributions to many different domains of cognitive neuroscience. These contributions included further delineation of memory systems required for different forms of nondeclarative learning, elucidation of memory deficits that arise in Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, and contributions toward theoretical debates regarding the role of the medial temporal lobe in the retrieval of remote memories.

Dr. Corkin was also an early adopter of human neuroimaging methods and used these methods to great avail to elucidate the neural bases of different forms of human memory and of age- and disease-related changes in memory networks. [2] She utilized both functional and structural MRI methods, and even toward the end of her career was moving the field forward in terms of methods advances. For instance, some of the last publications from her laboratory reported the benefits of a multispectral structural magnetic resonance imaging method for measuring the volumes of the substantia nigra and basal forebrain in patients with Parkinson disease (Ziegler and Corkin, 2013; Ziegler et al., 2013).

Dr. Corkin continued to work with the amnesic patient H.M., protecting his identity until his death in 2008, at which point his identity was revealed to by Henry Molaison.[3] She discussed the story of H.M. in her 2013 book Permanent Present Tense.[4]

Publications and Awards[edit]

She published over 150 research articles and was author or co-author of 10 books. [5] She received numerous awards for her research, including a MERIT award from the National Institutes of Health and the Baltes Distinguished Research Achievement Award from the American Psychological Association, Division on Aging.


Dr. Corkin was widely recognized for her advocacy for women and minorities in science. [6]

New York Times Article Controversy[edit]

An August 7, 2016 New York Times article by Luke Dittrich generated controversy when it questioned the ethics of Dr. Corkin in her dealings with Henry Mollison. This report suggested that Dr. Corkin attempted to suppress research findings that H.M. had a preexisting frontal lobe lesion (These results were reported in a 2014 publication to Nature on which Dr. Corkin was an author); did not locate the genetically closest living relative to H.M. from whom to obtain consent (legal proceedings instead appointed a distant relative as conservator); and sought to shred her original source material and unpublished data because it could potentially lead to a reexamination of her conclusions during her decades of research on H.M. (This is based on an interview with Dr. Corkin where she discusses shredding materials) article

Controversy is ongoing in regard to this article. Hundreds of neuroscientists signed a letter suggesting that the article was biased and misleading and as of Aug 21, 2016, there continue to be back-and-forth statements released by MIT and by Dittrich. rebuttal [7] Because there were well-known tensions between Dittrich and Corkin for many years, some reviewers have called Dittrich's book a "personal vendetta" [8] Yet others have favorably reviewed his book [9]

Because Dittrich's book and NY Times article were not released until after Dr. Corkin's death, it is unlikely that a full resolution of these issues will be possible. Nevertheless, one important conclusion that hundreds of scientists have stood behind is that -- regardless of the presence of a frontal lesion -- the core lessons learned from H.M. are now "settled science," having been replicated in many other patients and in animal models. [10] This is consistent with the fact that the 2014 article reporting the presence of a small frontal lesion were published without fanfare and have not led to any suggestion that the seminal findings from H.M. need to be reconsidered.

Personal life[edit]

Her marriage to Charles Corkin ended in divorce. She died of liver cancer in Danvers, Massachusetts on May 24, 2016, at the age of 79 years. She was survived by three adult children.[1][2]


  1. ^ a b "Suzanne Corkin, Who Helped Pinpoint Nature of Memory, Dies at 79". New York Times. May 27, 2016. 
  2. ^ a b c Geoff Watts (2016). "Obituary Suzanne Corkin". The Lancet. 388 (10042): 336. doi:10.1016/S0140-6736(16)31114-X. 
  3. ^ Benedict Carey (December 4, 2008). "H. M., an Unforgettable Amnesiac, Dies at 82". The New York Times. Archived from the original on July 15, 2014. Retrieved June 21, 2013. 
  4. ^ Permanent Present Tense'
  5. ^ [1]
  6. ^ [2]
  7. ^ Dittrich, Luke (10 August 2016). "Questions & Answers about ″Patient H.M.″". Medium. Retrieved 12 August 2016. 
  8. ^ [3]
  9. ^ [4]
  10. ^ [5]

External links[edit]