What does burnt toast have to do with brain surgery? Today, Google is making that connection with a Doodle that honors pioneering neurosurgeon Wilder Penfield.
Penfield, who was born in Washington in 1904, attended Princeton, then pursued studies in neuroscience as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford. He eventually settled in Canada where he became Montreal's first neurosurgeon, according to the Google Doodle blog post, and went on to found the Montreal Neurological Institute in 1934. It wasn't until the 1950s that Penfield made the discovery he's best known for today.
Originally, Penfield was looking for a way to treat patients who suffered epileptic seizures. According to PBS's A Science Odyssey, he thought that if he could stimulate an aura, the sensation many patients experience before the onset of a seizure, using an electric probe, he could figure out where the seizure activity originated in the brain. The successful surgery was named the Montreal Procedure. From this, Penfield learned that by stimulating specific parts of the brain, he could evoke powerful memories of specific colors, sounds, and smells — like the smell of burnt toast.
His findings didn't end there. The Canadian Association for Neuroscience reported that Penfield mapped the parts of the brain that were responsible for language. He also discovered that probing the amygdala could help seizure patients describe the exact sensations they experienced during a seizure. Penfield's many accolades included induction into the Canadian Medical Hall of Fame, the prestigious Lister Medal, and inclusion in the Royal Society.
If you ever read Philip K. Dick's Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, you might recognize Penfield's name from there, too. According to the Google Doodle blog, the "fictional Penfield Mood Organ, [is] a device used to change a mood by 'dialing it in' on a number pad."
Today's Doodle celebrates Penfield's achievements on what would have been his 127th birthday. The animation that appears on the search engine's homepage depicts a brain, and shows the smell of burnt toast wafting into a person's nose. It's a clever way to remember the renowned researcher.