Why Rita?

When our professor gave us the list of scientist to choose from, I did not know who to pick. I saw Rita Levi-Montalcini’s name and next to her name was her occupation, a neuroembryologist. Never in my life have I heard such a term, I have heard neurologists and neuroscientists and embryology as a subject, but never neuroembryologist. So what is a neuroembryologist? A neuroembryologist is a person that studies the nervous systems. After researching neuroembryology, I went on to do some research on the scientist herself, and from the moment I read my first source, I knew that I had made the right choice in choosing her as my scientist.

Born on April 22, 1909 in Turin, Italy, Rita Levi-Montalcini devoted her life to science. She was the recipient of Nobel Prize in 1986 with Stephen Cohen for discovering the nerve growth factor (NFG) which promotes the growth of the nervous system. When Levi-Montalcini was still young, about to graduate high school, she decided she wanted to do something in science, she did not know exactly what, she just knew that she wanted to do something that helped others. Her father did not approve of this, he was very “Victorian” meaning he wanted things the typical way during the time, a women would marry a man, the women would stay home and take care of the kids and do all the house chores, while the man went to work and provided for the family. Rita did not want to spend her life second to a man, and decided she would not marry, and enrolled to the University of Turin Medical School.

She graduated summa cum lade with a degree in medicine and surgery. However, the same year she graduated, Benito Mussolini signed the “Manifesto per la Difesa della Razza” which persecuted Italian Jews. This caused Levi-Montalcini to flee to Brussels where she was able to continue her professional career. Another obstacle stood in her way of her work, World War II, which made her go back to Italy and stay with her parents, where she built a small laboratory in the bathroom. After the war, she received a letter from Viktor Hamburger, the man whose work was the basis of Levi-Montalcini’s work, offering her a position to study at the University of Washington in St. Louis. What was meant to be a one year stay ended up to be 20+ years. She became a professor at the same university.

Winning the Nobel Peace Prize was one of her accomplishments, but Rita Levi-Montalcini is a Renaissance woman. She established the European Brain Research Institute, and she was Director of the Institute of Cell Biology of the Italian National Council of Research in Rome. She

Press Conference two days before 100th Birthday

has done so much in her life, and at 102 years of age she’s still not done. Today, Rita Levi-Montalcini serves as a Senator for Life in Italy, she uses her power to endorse science any way she can. She is a true scientist, learning has story has been an inspiration and I wish for more people to know of her.