The life, the career and the charisma of Rita Levi-Montalcini have always been noteworthy, and even now, three years after her death, the scientist continues to deeply influence Italian public opinion. A petition, posted on the website change.org less than two weeks ago, suggested to the Bank of Italy and the government, to print her face on the 1 euro coin, the most common in Europe. Within a few days the idea collected approximately 20,000 signatures, a tangible sign of the respect and the love that she inspired during all her life.
The Italian neurobiologist who in 1986 along with Stanley Cohen won the Nobel Prize for her discovery of the nerve growth factor has become the symbol of an exceptional story, underlined the petition. However unique, that story – reads the website – “gathers many characteristics of the Italian spirit.” The petition wants “to bestow a homage to a special citizen, exemplary for effort, work and rigor for generations of youths”, considering that a coin with her face might communicate, in an immediate way, a strong and virtuous message.
“Another Italy is possible – concludes the website – Rita Levi-Montalcini showed us the way. We want a coin for Rita”.
The request, launched also by the Rai, the Italian public television, demonstrates how the bond to the scientist who so authoritatively represented Italian Jewry is still strong. Especially, it shows how vital and vibrant the bond is even today.
Rita Levi-Montalcini (22 April 1909 – 30 December 2012) was the oldest living Nobel laureate, and the first ever to reach a 100th birthday. She was born in Turin to an Italian Jewish family. After getting her degree in Medicine, she went to work as Giuseppe Levi’s assistant, but her academic career was cut short in 1938 by the fascist racial laws barring Jews from academic and professional careers. During World War II, she conducted experiments from a home laboratory, studying the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos, which laid the groundwork for much of her later research. After the war she accepted an invitation to Washington University in St. Louis, where she stayed for thirty years unfolding her groundbreaking work, the nerve growth factor. From 1961 to 1969 she directed the Research Center of Neurobiology of the CNR- National Research Center in Rome, and from 1969 to 1978 the Laboratory of Cellular Biology. She founded the European Brain Research Institute in 2002, and then served as its president. On 1 August 2001, she was appointed Life Senator by the President of Italy, Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.