Rita Levi-Montalcini had been the oldest living Nobel laureate and the first ever to reach a 100th birthday. On 22 April 2009, she was feted with a 100th birthday party at Rome's city hall.
Born on 22 April 1909 at Turin to a wealthy Italian family, she and her twin sister Paola were the youngest of four children. Her parents were Adamo Levi, an electrical engineer and mathematician, and Adele Montalcini, a painter.
In her teenage years, she considered becoming a writer and admired Swedish writer Selma Lagerlöf. Adamo discouraged his children from attending college as he feared it would disrupt their lives as wives and mothers but he eventually supported Levi-Montalcini's aspirations to become a doctor anyway. Levi-Montalcini decided to attend University of Turin Medical School after seeing a close family friend die of stomach cancer. While attending, she was taught by neurohistologist Giuseppe Levi who introduced her to the developing nervous system.
Rita Levi-Montalcini died in her home in Rome on 30 December 2012 at the age of 103.
Upon her death, the Mayor of Rome, Gianni Alemanno, stated it was a great loss "for all of humanity." He praised her as someone who represented "civic conscience, culture and the spirit of research of our time." Italian astrophysicist Margherita Hack told Sky TG24 TV in a tribute to her fellow scientist, "She is really someone to be admired." Italy's premier, Mario Monti, paid tribute to Levi-Montalcini's "charismatic and tenacious" character and for her lifelong endeavor to "defend the battles in which she believed."
In 1968, she became the tenth woman elected to the United States National Academy of Sciences.
In 1983, she was awarded the Louisa Gross Horwitz Prize from Columbia University.
In 1986, Levi-Montalcini and collaborator Stanley Cohen received the Nobel Prize in Medicine, as well as the Albert Lasker Award for Basic Medical Research.
In 1987, she received the National Medal of Science, the highest American scientific honor.
In 1991, she received the Laurea Honoris Causa in Medicine from the University of Trieste, Italy. On that occasion, she expressed her desire to formulate a Carta of Human Duties as necessary counterpart of the too much neglected Declaration of Human Rights. The vision of Rita Levi-Montalcini came true with the issuing of the Trieste Declaration of Human Duties and the foundation in 1993 of the International Council of Human Duties, ICHD, at the University of Trieste.
In 1999, Levi-Montalcini was nominated Goodwill Ambassador of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) by FAO Director-General Jacques Diouf.
In 2001, she was nominated Senator-for-life by the Italian President Carlo Azeglio Ciampi.
In 2006, Levi-Montalcini received the degree Honoris Causa in Biomedical Engineering from the Polytechnic University of Turin, in her native city.
In 2008, she received the PhD Honoris Causa from the Complutense University of Madrid, Spain.
She was a founding member of Città della Scienza.
On her religious views, Rita was born into a Jewish family and later become a professed atheist.
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