After losing her position in her university’s anatomy department in 1938, Rita Levi-Montalcini set up a laboratory in her bedroom and studied the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos. This work led to her discovery of nerve growth factor, for which she was awarded a Nobel Prize in 1986.
Levi-Montalcini lost her assistant position in the anatomy department after a 1938 law barring Jews from university positions was passed. During World War II she set up a laboratory in her bedroom and studied the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos, which laid the groundwork for much of her later research. She described this experience decades later in the science documentary film Death by Design/The Life and Times of Life and Times (1997). The film also features her fraternal twin sister Paola, who became a respected artist best known for her aluminum sculptures designed to bring light to the rooms due to the reflective white surface.
When the Germans invaded Italy in September 1943, her family fled south to Florence, where … Continue Reading (10 minute read)