R.I.P. Oldest Living Nobel Prize Winner, Biologist Rita Levi-Montalcini

so long and thanks for all the fish

Recommended Videos

Yesterday, at the age of 103, Rita Levi-Montalcini died the longest lived Nobel Prize Winner in history, the tenth woman to be elected to the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the co-discoverer of nerve growth factor, and a woman who refused to let her father’s ideas about gender or a state’s ideas about race keep her from doing some pretty great science.

Levi-Montalcini was born the youngest (along with her twin sister) child of an Italian-Jewish family in 1909. She entered university at the age of twenty, because that was how long it took her to convince her father that one of his daughters could seek an education that would prepare her for things other than marriage and motherhood. But after that hurdle was cleared, she filled the gaps in her education, graduated from high school, and started classes in less than a year, graduating summa cum laude, becoming the lab assistant to Guiseppe Levi, a pioneer in the study of in vitro cells.

Two years later, however, Mussolini’s Manifesto of Race was published, preparing Italy for the enactment of a number of laws stripping anyone not of “Ayran” descent of their Italian citizenship, and proscribing them from holding many professions, including governmental positions. Levi-Montalcini was forced to leave her position at the University of Turin, but she refused to leave her research. She set up a tiny laboratory in her small bedroom at home, studying the growth of chicken embryos, and continued her research after her family was forced to flee to the countryside due to bombing, and even after being forced underground to escape the Nazi invasion of Italy. After the Allied liberation, she worked as a doctor in a refugee camp.

Post-war, she was invited to continue her work in America at Washington University in St. Louis, which is where she performed her Nobel Prizewinning work isolating nerve growth factor (NGF), the mechanism whereby organisms tell cells to grow and die, with lots of applications in cancer research, neurodegenerative diseases, and embryos. Indeed, Levi-Montalcini attributed her continued mental acuity into old age to daily eyedrops of NGF.

Her work will have scientists thinking long after her death, no thanks to her superlatively (among the population of Nobel Prize Winners, at least) long life.

(via Wired.)


The Mary Sue is supported by our audience. When you purchase through links on our site, we may earn a small affiliate commission. Learn more about our Affiliate Policy
related content
Read Article Here’s Why the ‘L’ Comes First in LGBTQ?
Read Article What Will Conventions Look Like in 2021?
Read Article Dear White People, I Need To Matter Beyond a Thank You
Black Lives Matter protest photo
Black Lives Matter protest photo
Black Lives Matter protest photo
Read Article Have You Ever Seen a Ghost?
Library of Congress Ghost picture
Library of Congress Ghost picture
Library of Congress Ghost picture
Read Article Taylor Swift Says She’ll Re-Record All Her Old Albums to Regain Ownership of Them
taylor swift,, voting, tennessee, blackburn, conservatives, vote.org
taylor swift,, voting, tennessee, blackburn, conservatives, vote.org
taylor swift,, voting, tennessee, blackburn, conservatives, vote.org
Related Content
Read Article Here’s Why the ‘L’ Comes First in LGBTQ?
Read Article What Will Conventions Look Like in 2021?
Read Article Dear White People, I Need To Matter Beyond a Thank You
Black Lives Matter protest photo
Read Article Have You Ever Seen a Ghost?
Library of Congress Ghost picture
Read Article Taylor Swift Says She’ll Re-Record All Her Old Albums to Regain Ownership of Them
taylor swift,, voting, tennessee, blackburn, conservatives, vote.org
Author
Susana Polo
Susana Polo thought she'd get her Creative Writing degree from Oberlin, work a crap job, and fake it until she made it into comics. Instead she stumbled into a great job: founding and running this very website (she's Editor at Large now, very fancy). She's spoken at events like Geek Girl Con, New York Comic Con, and Comic Book City Con, wants to get a Batwoman tattoo and write a graphic novel, and one of her canine teeth is in backwards.