Rita Levi-Montalcini

Rita
Levi-Montalcini
1909
2012

Italian Biologist, Neurologist, Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for Cell Growth Research

Author Quotes

The allegations against Fidia cannot be true. The process for awarding Nobel prizes is so complex that it cannot be corrupted.

The four of us enjoyed a most wonderful family atmosphere filled with love and reciprocal devotion. Both parents were highly cultured and instilled in us their high appreciation of intellectual pursuit. It was, however, a typical Victorian style of life, all decisions being taken by the head of the family, the husband and father.

As for the presence of large NGF [nerve growth factor] sources in snake venom and male genital organs, they may be conceived as instances of bizarre evolutionary gene expression.

The heavy bombing of Turin by Anglo-American air forces in 1941 made it imperative to abandon Turin and move to a country cottage where I rebuilt my mini-laboratory and resumed my experiments. In the Fall of 1943, the invasion of Italy by the German army forced us to abandon our now dangerous refuge in Piemonte and flee to Florence, where we lived underground until the end of the war.

At 100, I have a mind that is superior - thanks to experience - than when I was 20.

The instruments, glassware, and chemical reagents necessary for my project were the same as my 19th-century predecessors had.

At 20, I realized that I could not possibly adjust to a feminine role as conceived by my father and asked him permission to engage in a professional career. In eight months I filled my gaps in Latin, Greek and mathematics, graduated from high school, and entered medical school in Turin.

The process for awarding Nobel prizes is so complex that it cannot be corrupted.

Babies did not attract me, and I was altogether without the maternal sense so highly developed in small and adolescent girls.

The two alternatives left then to us were either to emigrate to the United States, or to pursue some activity that needed neither support nor connection with the outside Aryan world where we lived. My family chose this second alternative. I then decided to build a small research unit at home and installed it in my bedroom. My inspiration was a 1934 article by Viktor Hamburger reporting on the effects of limb extirpation in chick embryos. My project had barely started when [Italian histologist] Giuseppe Levi, who had escaped from Belgium invaded by Nazis, returned to Turin and joined me, thus becoming, to my great pride, my first and only assistant.

I never had any hesitation or regrets in this sense. My life has been enriched by excellent human relations, work and interests. I have never felt lonely.

I say to the young, be happy that you were born in Italy because of the beauty of the human capital, both masculine and feminine, of this country... No other country has such human capital.

I should thank Mussolini for having declared me to be of an inferior race. This led me to the joy of working, not any more, unfortunately, in university institutes but in a bedroom.

I told Mother of my decision to study medicine. She encouraged me to speak to Father... I began in a roundabout way... He listened, looking at me with that serious and penetrating gaze of his that caused me such trepidation, and asked whether I knew what I wanted to do.

If I had not been discriminated against or had not suffered persecution, I would never have received the Nobel Prize.

It is imperfection - not perfection - that is the end result of the program written into that formidably complex engine that is the human brain, and of the influences exerted upon us by the environment and whoever takes care of us during the long years of our physical, psychological and intellectual development.

My experience in childhood and adolescence of the subordinate role played by the female in a society run entirely by men had convinced me that I was not cut out to be a wife.

My father loved us dearly and had a great respect for women, but he believed that a professional career would interfere with the duties of a wife and mother. He decided that the three of us - Anna, Paola and I - would not engage in studies which open the way to a professional career, and that we would not enroll in the University.

My life has been enriched by excellent human relations, work and interests. I have never felt lonely.

Progress depends on our brain. The most important part of our brain, that which is neocortical, must be used to help others and not just to make discoveries.

After a short period spent in Brussels as a guest of a neurological institute, I returned to Turin on the verge of the invasion of Belgium by the German army, Spring 1940, to join my family. The two alternatives left then to us were either to emigrate to the United States, or to pursue some activity that needed neither support nor connection with the outside Aryan world where we lived. My family chose this second alternative. I then decided to build a small research unit at home and installed it in my bedroom.

After centuries of dormancy, young women can now look toward a future moulded by their own hands.

A child from the age of 2 or 3 absorbs what is in the environment and what generates hatred for anyone perceived to be different.

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. Do not fear the difficulties: I've had many in the past and I crossed without fear, with total indifference for myself.

Above all, don’t fear difficult moments. The best comes from them.

Author Picture
First Name
Rita
Last Name
Levi-Montalcini
Birth Date
1909
Death Date
2012
Bio

Italian Biologist, Neurologist, Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine for Cell Growth Research