Finding the Good in the Bad; January 1993; Scientific American Magazine; by Marguerite Holloway; 2 Page(s)
As a feminist in a family with Victorian mores and as a Jew and free-thinker in Mussolini's Italy, Rita Levi-Montalcini has encountered various forms of oppression many times in herlife. Yet the neurobiologist, whose tenacity and preciseness are immediately apparent in her light, steel-blue eyes and elegant black-and-white attire, embraces the forces that shaped her. "If I had not been discriminated against or had not suffered persecution, I would never have received the Nobel Prize," she declares.
Poised on the edge of a couch in her apartment in Rome that she shares with her twin sister, Paola, Levi-Montalcini recalls the long, determined struggle that culminated in joining the small group of women Nobelists in 1986. She won the prize for elucidating a substance essential to the survival of nerve cells. Her discovery of nerve growth factor led to a new understanding of the development and differentiation of the nervous system. Today it and other similar factors are the subject of intense investigation because of their potential to revive damaged neurons, especially those harmed in such diseases as Alzheimer's.