Today Rita Levi-Montalcini turns 100. One of six living Italian Nobel Laureates, Levi-Montalcini was born in 1909 and she was a young researcher in medicine when the 1938 “racial laws” promulgated by Mussolini forced all Italian Jews out of University positions. After the end of the war she moved to the US, to St. Louis, where she remained for thirty years and where she made her most important discovery: the “nerve growth factor.” She received the 1986 Nobel Prize in Medicine for her discovery.

Italy has a lovely tradition whereby the President can nominate distinguished citizens to become senators for life (all former Presidents are also senators for life). Levi-Montalcini has been senator-for-life since 2001. May her tenure last much longer!

p.s. the other living Italian Nobel Laureates are virologist Renato Dulbecco, playwright, writer and actor Dario Fo (winner of the Literature Prize), experimental high-energy physicist Carlo Rubbia, genetist Mario Capecchi (who has lived in the US since he was 9) and astrophysicist Riccardo Giacconi. Of the six, Dario Fo is the only one who is not a scientist, and the only one who did his prize-winning work in Italy. The sample space is small, but one can say that more than 83% of living Italian Nobel Laureates are scientists (yay for Italian scientists!) and that 100% of them had to go abroad to do their work (boo for Italy’s support of research!).

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