My inspiration as a scientist: Rita Levi-Montacini

Autor: Laura Guillem

Rita Levi-Montalcini vía www.corriere.it

Today is my first time as a blogger. It’s a challenge for me, the same as this project is. Only a few days ago I was asked to write something for the blog; anything, it wasn’t important what as long as I thought it was interesting. But there are so many things that I think are interesting! I thought it would be difficult for me to choose a topic, begin to write….until I stumbled across an interview with María Blasco (researcher and director of the CNIO Cancer Center) and then I knew: I was going to write about women scientists!

There have been many great women scientists throughout history but there is one who life has fascinated me since the moment I discovered her…Rita Levi-Montalcini.

For those who know nothing of her, I will begin by saying that she was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986 jointly with Stanley Cohen for the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF). But the road she traveled to receive the innumerable awards she got was not an easy one.

She was born in Turin on 22 April 1909 where she studied medicine without the total approval of her father who thought that a woman should be a wife and mother. She had to overcome obstacles and discrimination because of her sex and religion and she was affected by politics, war and totalitarianism. But these were not enough to deter her as she herself said: “Extremely difficult situations and suffering pushed me to work even harder.” Besides her indescribable role as a scientist, Rita Levi-Montalcini was a woman who believed in helping others. Together with her sister, she set up a foundation dedicated to granting scholarships and promoting educational programs worldwide, particularly for women in Africa. She was convinced that culture and knowledge are the bases of freedom and independence.

She died on the 30 December 2012 at 103 years of age and was involved until the end in her scientific and social activities. On reaching 100, when she was asked about her life, she responded:

“I have lost a little sight, and a lot of hearing. In conferences I have trouble seeing the slides and hearing well. But I think more now than I did when I was 20. One’s body does what it wants, but I am not my body; I am its mind”.