Rita Levi-Montalcini



One of four siblings, she attended the University of Turin despite her father’s reservations. Teaching at many universities, she encouraged post secondary education. Montalcini authored many books and won several awards for her work. This inspiring neurobiologist passed away in 2012.

Allyson Bonhaus, Feature Chief

 Rita Levi-Montalcini helped the understanding of several diseases. She was the laureate of the 1986 Nobel Peace Prize, which she shared with Stanley Cohen and their discovery of the nerve growth factor (NGF). This protein, through stimulating surrounding nerve tissue, causes cells to grow.
A twin with an electrical engineer and painter for parents, Montalcini was born to a happy Italian family in 1909. She went to medical school in her home Turin, Italy. Heavy bombing in 1941 forced her to leave her home.
However, not before she regained her first and only assistant, Giuseppe Levi, who had fled Belgium and the Nazis. Living underground in Florence during the second World War until the Italian part of the war ended, she also created a lab for her time underground.
She set up her own personal lab inspired by Professor Viktor Hamburger’s work. She studied the nerve fibers in chicken embryos. Forced to rebuild her lab due to fleeing multiple area of Italy, she eventually became a medical doctor for refugees.
Then, she traveled to St. Louis to work as a research associate to Hamburger and together they redid the experiments she did before the war.
Next, she taught at universities until her retirement in 1977 she divided her time between St. Louis and Rome.
Other accomplishments of Montalcini’s include being the first woman to receive the Max Weinstein Award by the United Cerebral Palsy Association and the first woman to be accepted into the Pontifical Scientific Academy. She has won even more awards for her work in neurobiology.

“I tell young people: Do not think of yourself, think of others. Think of the future that awaits you, think about what you can do and do not fear anything.” -Rita Levi-Montalcini