Another nearly forgotten role model
More than a role model, she defines perseverance and bravery in the face of adversity. With so many highly gifted and educated others who didn’t survive, I often wonder how many other discoveries were halted with them. She defied society and her father by going to university. Bravo to brave souls whose passions find a way to survive and thrive. The more we know the better our decisions are. WE are each other’s role models. Inspiration is everywhere. Stay curious. It’s where we find courage too.
Role Model Rita Levi-Montalcini 1909 – 2012
In recognition of Holocaust Remembrance Week, we’re sharing the incredible story of Nobel Prize-winning neurobiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini. Born in 1909 to a Jewish-Italian family in Turin, Levi-Montalcini’s years in medical school coincided with the rise of fascism in Italy and the imposition of anti-Semitic laws which limited her career prospects. Once WWII broke out, she and her family decided to stay in Italy rather than flee overseas and she built a laboratory in her bedroom to continue her research work. It was in this makeshift laboratory that she began studying the development of chicken embryos; research that laid the underpinning of her later Nobel Prize-winning work on the mechanism of cell growth regulation.
After the Nazi invasion of Italy in 1943, Levi-Montalcini and her family were forced underground and moved to Florence where she worked as a doctor in Allied war camps after the city was liberated. Following the war, in 1946, she moved to the U.S. for more than twenty years to conduct research at Washington University in St. Louis. It was there that she discovered nerve growth factor, a protein which regulates the growth of cells; this discovery was critical to better understanding tumor growth among other conditions.
It was for this breakthrough research that the Nobel committee described her work, along with fellow winner Stanley Cohen, as “a fascinating example of how a skilled observer can create a concept out of apparent chaos.” Both received the 1986 Nobel Prize for Medicine. Dr. Levi-Montalcini passed away in 2012 at the age of 103.
Rita Levi-Montalcini’s story is told along with other pioneering women of science in the illustrated biography “Women in Science: