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Monday, December 31, 2012

“Complete human being”: Rita Levi Montalcini 1909-2012

Costantino Ceoldo’s “Homage to Rita Levi Montalcini” 
Editing by Carolyn Bennett

Notes on a life worth remembering

She has been described as having had “first class intelligence: polished, precise, curious, as feminist avant la lettre, always opposed to obsolete social conventions; never believing in the division of genders ─ only in the equality of their capacities.” She abandoned religion and embraced atheism; devoted herself to scientific research and discovery, renounced marriage for science.

Rita Levi Montalcini was born in Turin, Italy, in the spring and died in Rome in winter. She was a relentless discoverer and researcher in science, a recipient of major awards in her field. She is said to have had a scientific sensibility “combined with humanity and respect for others.”

Her studies in the 1950s led her to discover (with her student and assistant, also a biochemist, Stanley Cohen) “that the growth and differentiation of sensory and sympathetic nerve cells is due to a specific protein: Nerve Growth Factor,” a finding that disputed an earlier notion that “the nervous system is static, genetically programmed by genes to be immutable.” Thirty years later, she accepted the Nobel Prize for Medicine.

 In the 1960s and 1970s, she directed the Research Center of Neurobiology (Rome, 1961-1969) and the Laboratory of Cellular Biology (1969-1978); she became the tenth woman elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences (1968). In 1983, Columbia University awarded her the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize.

During the course of her life, Rita Levi Montalcini pioneered in progressive and scientific campaigns including the campaign against anti-personnel mines. In the Nazi era of the 1930s and 1940s when she was forced to flee Italy then Belgium, she organized a makeshift (home) laboratory in clandestine conditions. In later years, she was a co-founder of the Italian section of Green Cross International, chaired the Institute of the Italian Encyclopedia and was a Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO, 1999). In 2001, she was named Senator for Life by the Italian president of the Republic, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi, in recognition of her scientific and social efforts, a position that enabled her to sit in the Senate and participate in parliamentary debates. In 2002, she established the European Brain Research Institute.

An Italian (b. April 22, 1909-d. December 30, 2012) honors graduate from the Italy’s Turin Medical School, University of Turin, a medical researcher and teacher at Washington University in St. Louis (United States), Neurophysiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini traveled regularly between North America and Europe. Her major awards included the Nobel Prize in Physiology/Medicine (1986), the United States’ highest scientific honor, the National Medal of Science (1987); the degree Honoris Causa in Biomedical Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Turin (2006) and the Ph.D. Honoris Causa (honorary doctorate) from the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain (2008).

Some of her books are: In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work (Sloan Foundation science series) by Rita Levi-Montalcini and Luigi Attardi (October 1989); The Saga of the Nerve Growth Factor: Preliminary Studies, Discovery, Further Development (World Scientific Series in 20th Century Biology) by Rita Levi-Montalcini (July 1997); L'asso nella manica a brandelli (I saggi) (Italian Edition) by Rita Levi-Montalcini (1998); La science citoyenne (La Question) (French Edition) by Rita Levi-Montalcini (1994); Un universo inquieto: Vita e opere di Paola Levi Montalcini (I saggi) by Rita Levi-Montalcini (2001); The Hourglass of Life: A Nobel Laureate Reflects on Her Life by Rita Levi-Montalcini and Giuseppina Tripodi (January 27, 2010); Il tuo futuro (Italian Edition) by Rita Levi-Montalcini (1993); NGF: Apertura di una nuova frontiera nella neurobiologia (Sonde) (Italian Edition) by Rita Levi-Montalcini (1989). 

T
ogether with Italy, America may claim her: a life, a woman’s life and work, worth remembering.
 
Attributed to Rita Levi-Montalcini:
“Above all, do not fear 
difficult moments. 
The best comes from them.”



Sources and notes

“Homage to Rita Levi Montalcini” (by Costantino Ceoldo, Prepared for publication by: Lisa Karpova, Pravda.Ru, Timothy Bancroft-Hinchey), December 31, 2012, http://english.pravda.ru/society/anomal/31-12-2012/123358-rita_montalcini-0/
Copyright © 1999-2012, «PRAVDA.Ru». When reproducing our materials in whole or in part, hyperlink to PRAVDA.Ru should be made. The opinions and views of the authors do not always coincide with the point of view of PRAVDA.Ru's editors.

See also Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rita_Levi-Montalcini

Nazi Party (by name of National Socialist German Workers' Party, German Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei, NSDAP:  political party of the mass movement known as National Socialism (q.v.). Under the leadership of Adolf Hitler, the party came to power in Germany in 1933 and governed by totalitarian methods until 1945. Britannica note

– Rita Levi-Montalcini (b. 1909), Italian scientist, 1986 Nobel Prize winner in Physiology or Medicine (w/ Stanley Cohen), ritalevimontalcini.org; http://nocountryforyoungwomen.com/?s=Rita+Levi+Montalcini

Women in Health Sciences, Neurophysiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini (b. 1909), http://beckerexhibits.wustl.edu/mowihsp/bios/levi_montalcini.htm

Rita Levi-Montalcini images at: http://www.giornalettismo.com/archives/682513/rita-levi-montalcini-e-morta/6543598_small/


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