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Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita Levi-Montalcini
Ink and watercolor on 9″ x 12″ watercolor paper
The latest addition to the ‘She Changed the World’ collection!

Rita Levi-Montalcini (1909-2012) was an Italian Nobel laureate, honored for her work in neurobiology, most notably for her discovery of nerve growth factor. As a young woman she defied her father’s wishes and attended college, first to become a doctor but later specializing in the nervous system. After Benito Mussolini’s rise to power, she was barred from being a professional scientist due to her Jewish heritage (although she was a professed atheist). Nevertheless, she created a lab in her bedroom during World War II to continue her studies into the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos. When the Germans invaded Italy, her family fled south to Florence. She set her lab back up in their refugee quarters, and also volunteered with the Allied health service.

After the war, she was granted a fellowship at Washington University in St Louis, where she duplicated her wartime experiments. This led to her observations of cancerous tissues causing extremely rapid growth of nerve cells. In 1958 she became a full professor, and in 1962 established a second laboratory in Rome, splitting her time between the two. In 1986 she and collaborator Stanley Cohen received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research. In 1987 she received America’s highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science. At the time of her passing, she was the oldest living Nobel laureate at the age of 103.