Field of Science

Rita Levi-Montalcini, artist of science


portrait by orticanoodles - source: deviantart | flickr
Rita Levi-Montalcini was born on the 22nd april 1909 at Turin, Italy. In 1938 she came in Belgium because of the italian racial laws. After the war, she came back in Italy, at Asti, where she prepared a little laboratory in order to study the nervous system of chickens. In 1947, with her friend Renato Dulbecco, went in USA where she worked until 1977. In 1986 she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine with her pupil Stanley Cohen
for their discoveries of growth factors.
About the potential of the NGF, she wrote in her Nobel Lecture:
For instance, whenever cell death of specific neuronal populations may be linked to a decreased local availability of neurotrophic factors, such as NGF, its exogenous supply or stimulation of its endogenous production via pharmacological agents may offer a promising approach to presently incurable diseases.
About the role of the women in science, she said:
Humanity is made ​​up of men and women must be represented by both sexes.
In 1975 she was was supported by the italian farmaceutical industry Fidia, but in about a decade was discovered that the advetrised drug was harmful. About this story she said to Riccardo Chiaberge:
Of course, I must admit that I yelled to see my name linked to Fidia. But I thought it was the price to pay, I don't care about anything to get some help for research. If we prevent the industry to help the laboratory, we die.
She had aprecise opinion on the relationship between young people and technology:
Today, compared to yesterday, young people benefit from an extraordinary breadth of information, and the price is the hypnotic effect exerted by television screens disaccustoming them to reason (in addition robbing them of time to devote to the study, sports and games that stimulate their creative capacity). They create for them a definite reality that inhibits their ability to "invent the world" and destroys the charm of the unknown.
In this sense she was an example for all of us:
I lost a little the eyesight, much the hearing. At the conferences I don't see the projections and don't hear so good. But I think more now than when I was twenty. The body does what it wants. I am not the body, I am the mind.
She passed away on the 30th december 2012 at Rome, Italy.
I've never been able to keep a log. Everything in me is imagination, intuition. Nothing is scientific.
I am not a scientist, I'm an artist of science.

Levi-Montalcini R. (1987). The nerve growth factor: Thirty-five years later, Bioscience Reports, 7 (9) 681-699. DOI: (pdf)
Quotes by Rita Levi-Montalcini (italian)
Biographies on Wikipedia: italian | english
An interview with Tullio Regge (italian)

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