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The Strong-Willed Life of Rita Levi-Montalcini

By Ruby Cemental

Rita Levi-Montalcini is among the smartest people who have ever lived. You may have never heard of her, but as a scientist who won the Nobel Prize, the late medical professional, neurologist, and educator deserves all of the posthumous attention she can get.

Early Life

Born in Ital in 1909 to a father who believed that women should be relegated to being simply wives and mothers, Rita Levi-Montalcini knew at an early age that she did not want to marry. Her father eventually relented to her pleas of wanting to study medicine instead, and she entere the University of Turin, from which she graduated with a degree in surgery and medicine in 1936.

Medical Career

Levi-Montalcini worked at the university afterward, learning techniques in working with nerve cells that started her on the path to great discovery. Unfortunately, in 1938, Benito Mussolini instituted laws in Italy that decreed that people with Jewish heritage, like Levi-Montalcini, could no longer work at universities or in most professions, including medicine. Levi-Montalcini was determined, however, and set up a makeshift lab in her bedroom using her own surgical instruments crafted from things like sewing needles. This determination was something that she would become known for throughout her long life.

Levi-Montalcini published several papers during and after Word War II, and she eventually got the attention of American embryologist Viktor Hamburger, who invited her to come and live in America in 1947. Together, in Hamburger's lab, she and an American biochemist named Stanley Cohen worked with animal embryos and nerve tissue, ultimately discovering possible treatments for conditions such as Alzheimer's disease, infertility and cancer, and subsequently, the pair were awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize for physiology or medicine.

Later Life

True to her unwavering determination, Levi-Montalcini did not sit back and rest on her previous achievements during her later years. Indeed, she went on to create an educational foundation in 1992 and set up the European Brain Research Institute in 2002. She committed to research every day, even toward the end of her life, which came at the remarkable age of 103. The only thing about her life that rivals the inspiring catalog of work that Levi-Montalcini put in is the length of time in which she performed it.

Living a life of determination--particularly a long one--takes courage. Rita Levi-Montalcini is a wonderful example of how we should live our lives, not only while we're young, but also when we reach our advanced years. Levi-Montalcini once said, “Above all, don't fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.” Per her words, then, we should all strive to stay strong and trust in ourselves, for the tougher times often lead to better understanding and a more meaningful life.

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Tags: Golden Inspirations

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