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UC Legend Dick Atkinson Digs into Memory

If you missed the live event, here’s UCTV video of his talk

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Richard C. Atkinson – or “Dick Atkinson,” as many know him – is a University of California legend.

UC President Emeritus Atkinson served at the helm of the UC system for eight years, during an important and tumultuous time in the university's history. After the state banned racial preferences in admissions, he helped the UC to enroll a more diverse student body. And he famously challenged the SAT, sparking a national conversation about the college entrance exam. At UC San Diego, he served as chancellor for 15 years, presiding over a steady rise in research and distinction and also working to better connect the campus to the city. Today, there are two university spaces named in his honor: Atkinson Pavilion at the Faculty Club and at Atkinson Hall in Warren College. (Farther afield, there’s also a mountain in Antarctica named after him.) Atkinson is also a former director of the National Science Foundation, where one of his achievements was to negotiate the first MOU between China and the U.S. for the exchange of scientists.

Atkinson’s skills as an administrator are well-known. What may be less familiar to many is that his scholarship has also been influential.

A professor emeritus of psychology and cognitive science in the UC San Diego School of Social Sciences, Atkinson – together with his then-doctoral student Richard Shiffrin – proposed a model of human memory in 1968, while at Stanford University, that continues to be relevant to this day. Atkinson and Shiffrin laid out components of memory and, significantly, modeled their control processes. The model is not without its critics, but it inspired decades of subsequent research. And their paper describing the Atkinson-Shiffrin model, also sometimes called the modal model of memory or the multi-store model, remains one of the most highlly cited papers in the field.

In the summer of 2023 – at the invitation of UC San Diego Chancellor Pradeep K. Khosla and Social Sciences Dean Carol Padden – Atkinson, 94, took to the podium in the Atkinson Pavilion to talk about the “Machinery of Human Memory.” He was then joined on stage by cognitive scientist Benjamin Bergen, associate dean of Social Sciences at UC San Diego, for a Q&A with the audience.

Watch Richard Atkinson discuss the Atkinson-Shiffrin model.
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