Brazier, Mary Agnes Burnston Brown 1904 - 1995


(1904-1995), neurophysiologist

Mary (Mollie) Agnes Burnston Brown Brazier was born in Weston-Super-Mare, Somerset on 18 May 1904. She was educated at Sidcot School, Somerset and Bedford College, Bedford, before studying physiology and biochemistry at the University of London, gaining her BSc in 1926 and Ph.D. in 1930. Her first major research project, conducted at the Maudsley Hospital, London, focused on electrical changes in the skin that occur in thyroid disease. This work received great acclaim, and was awarded the Gold Medal of the Institute of Electrical Engineers and the Van Meter Prize of the American Association for the Study of Goitre in 1934. Following this project, Brazier became increasingly interested in the electrical activity of the human nervous system.

After receiving a Rockefeller Fellowship in 1940, Brazier moved from London to the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH) in Boston, Massachusetts, where she took up a number of posts as a neurophysiologist in the Departments of Psychiatry, Anaesthesia, and Neurology. While her research in Boston covered a variety of subjects – including psychological selection processes, neurological injuries, and electromyography – Brazier increasingly specialised in electroencephalography (EEG, the measurement of the electrical activity of the brain), running the Hospital’s EEG Laboratory for much of the Second World War. In 1946, Brazier played a key role in persuading William Grey Walter (1910-1977), a neurophysiologist and EEG expert at the Burden Neurological Institute in Bristol, England, to come to Boston and demonstrate his new EEG frequency analyser device. The device remained in Boston, and helped to facilitate Brazier’s path-breaking computerised analyses of brainwave patterns.

In 1961, Brazier left Massachusetts to join the Brain Research Institute at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), where she was appointed Professor of Anatomy, Physiology and Biophysics. Here, she expanded her research on the electrical activity in the brain and nervous system, specialising in the use of computing methods to evaluate patients with epilepsy for surgical treatment.

During her career, Brazier played a key role in expanding the international reach of several neuroscientific disciplines. She wrote a seminal textbook The Electrical Activity of the Nervous System in 1957, and was successively appointed Treasurer, Secretary, and finally President of the International Federation of Societies for Electroencephalography and Clinical Neurophysiology. She also wrote a number of texts on the history of neurophysiology, including A History of Neurophysiology in the 17th and 18th Centuries (1984) and A History of Neurophysiology in the 19th Century (1988). She continued writing in academic circles right up to her death, with her last essay published in the Journal for the History of the Neurosciences in 1993.

Brazier married Leslie J. Brazier, an electrical engineer, in 1928, with whom she had one son. She died in Falmouth, Massachusetts, on 14 May 1995.