The Italian Almanac

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Rita Levi Montalcini

Happy Birthday

The 100th birthday of Life Senator and Nobel laureate Rita Levi Montalcini was feted in style at the presidential Quirinale Palace with President Giorgio Napolitano describing her as a ``great woman of science``. ``My dear friend, I wish you the most heartfelt best for not only having reached this milestone of 100 years but also for they way you have done so,`` Napolitano said.

The 83-year-old president went on to praise the senator for her commitment ``to the development of scientific research in Italy and the encouragement of those with talent and merit, especially among young researchers``. Napolitano went on to recall her ``battle for scientific truth, begun at a very young age, and for the emancipation and appreciation of women, for whom she has become a symbol``.

In her address, Montalcini said ``today I have the privilege of turning 100 maintaining my ability to think and decide, and to be able to continue to work on my research``. ``The only thing we can be grateful for living for is the ability to understand what values are. The body dies but the messages we have sent in our lifetime remain. And my message is to believe in values,`` she added.

Montalcini was born in Turin on April 22, 1909 and obtained a summa cum laude degree in medicine and surgery from the city university in 1936. After specialising in neurology and psychiatry she began work as a university assistant but, in 1938, was forced by Fascist religious persecution laws to leave her job. However, she continued her research from her home. Her most important work was carried out during her stay at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri.

Montalcini received the Nobel Prize for Medicine in 1986 with the US scientist Stanley Cohen for their discovery of the Nerve Growth Factor (NGF) in the peripheral nervous system. She is a member of numerous scientific academies, including the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Pontifical Academy of Sciences, the Royal Society of London and was the first woman to be admitted to Italy`s Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei in 1976.