The Scientist and Researcher Rita Levi Montalcini celebrates her 102nd Birthday

«I want to thank all the people who wanted to send me birthday wishes through the web. As a present I would like to receive more interest and support for research, which in the last years has been considered not so much […]. Italy is very rich in human capital but has never recognized it as a value. I’m an optimist because I trust and believe in our human capital […]. I am extremely grateful for what you’re doing and what you will keep on doing».

Rita Levi Montalcini interviewed by Riccardo Luna for “Rita101”
Friday 22nd April 2010

Rita Levi-Montalcini (born on 22nd April 1909), is an Italian neurologist who, together with colleague Stanley Cohen, received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine for their discovery of Nerve growth factor (NGF). Since 2001, she has also served in the Italian Senate as a Senator for Life for her social and scientific merits. Today she is the oldest living Nobel laureate and the first ever to reach a 100th birthday.

This year, she celebrates her 102nd birthday and also the web is getting ready for celebrating her again with the big initiative (Rita 101+). She’s a national member of the Accademia dei Lincei for the class of physics and one of the founders of the foundation Fondazione Idis-Città della Scienza.

Daughter of Adamo Levi, electrical and mathematical engineer, and the painter Adele Montalcini. Both her parents were educated and influenced their children with their appreciation for intellectual research.

Her father strongly believed that a professional career would be interfered with a wife and a mother’s duties. As a matter of fact, he enrolled his three daughters to a high school for women. When she was 20, Rita realized that she couldn’t become a woman as intended by her father and she asked him for permission for beginning a professional career.

In just eight months she was able to plug her gap in Latin, Greek and math, she sat the high school leaving examination and obtained her qualifications. In autumn 1930, Rita decided to study Medicine at University of Turin; her choice was due to the fact that in that year her beloved housekeeper got sick and died for cancer.

When she was still 20, she entered the medical school of the histologist Giuseppe Levi, beginning her studies about the nervous system that she would have continued for a lifetime.

In 1936, she graduated with honours in Medicine and Surgery and subsequently she got specialization in neurology and psychiatry, still not sure if becoming a doctor or, in the meantime, continuing her research in neurology.

In 1947, the biologist Viktor Hamburger invited her in St. Louis for a teaching post in the course of Neurobiology at the Department of zoology of the Washington University. She stayed in the USA until 1977, where she made essential experiments for the research of cancer and tumours.

In 1954, together with her colleague Stanley Cohen, she discovered the Nerve growth factor (NGF). Their research was essential for fully understanding the growth of the cells and organs and plays a fundamental role in the research for cancer and diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s ones.

Levi-Montalcini has always stated to feel a free woman. Grown up in “a Victorian world, in which the man predominated and the woman had a few opportunities”, she affirmed to “have felt the effects, because I knew that our mental capacity – men and women – are the same: we have the same possibilities and a different approach”.

She renounced by choice to a husband and a family and decided to entirely dedicate her life to science.

As for her experience as woman in the scientific environment, she described the relationship with collaborators and scholars as friendly and equal, claiming that women, just like men, represent a huge potential, although there are not yet equal opportunities for both.

In July 1992, the Fondazione Levi-Montalcini Onlus was created by Rita and Paola Levi-Montalcini to the memory of their father Adamo Levi, with the motto “The future to the youth” with the goal of promoting and encouraging new generations to study and work. In January 2001, the association changed the name in Fondazione Rita Levi-Montalcini Onlus. The reasons for achieving such aims are based on the awareness that it is necessary to help women in the countries where they have to fight for surviving every day.

We also remind you that tonight the web pays homage again to Rita Levi Montalcini with “Rita 101+”.

Her birthday will be live on web tonight Thursday 21st April from 9 p.m. to 00 a.m. It is the moment for properly paying homage to the person who dedicated her own life to research.

The broadcast was conceived and created by and Ipazia Promos. But what’s the meaning of the broadcast’s name?

The “+” indicates the three words used last year: + ricerca, + rete, + Rita (more research, more web, more Rita).

Many Italian researchers from all over the world will meet each other on the web for celebrating the Nobel Prize. It will be possible to watch the broadcast live on hundreds portals: micro web tv, iperlocal medias, blogs and videologs, medias of universities.

We’re going to talk about the state of Italian research in a very difficult year. During the broadcast 102 Italian researchers from Italy and abroad will be included in the talk, through Skype and webcam. They will tell their stories of commitment and passion despite the difficulties in funds.

In the course of the evening there will be connections with labs of research placed in the States, Japan, North Europe, North Africa and with researchers from universities of Siena, Pavia, Catania. In addition, connections via Skype with L’Aquila and Messina.

An extraordinary not-to-be-missed event on web!

Let’s celebrate Rita, science, research and all the people who every day do this job with commitment, devotion and so much passion!

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