5 Female Scientists You Should Know


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Rita Levi-Montalcini
Rita Levi-Montalcini was one of the oldest living Nobel laureates.
Rita Levi-Montalcini was one of the oldest living Nobel laureates.
Morena Brengola/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images

Rita Levi-Montalcini not only was one of the world's preeminent brain scientists, she was also the oldest living Nobel laureate until her death on Dec. 30, 2012. Born in Italy in 1909, Levi-Montalcini attended medical school despite her father -- an electrical engineer and mathematician -- initially forbidding her from pursuing higher education [source: Levi-Montalcini]. After she earned her degree in medicine and surgery in 1936, Levi-Montalcini decided to concentrate on neurology, rather than practice medicine. The disruption of World War II forced the brilliant Italian to dodge dangerous military zones and continue her research in hiding, even serving briefly as a military medical doctor.

After the dust settled from the war, Levi-Montalcini and her research partner Stanley Cohen sought to figure out how an embryo's nerves proliferate throughout a growing body [source: Abbott]. In the process, they discovered nerve growth factor, the key protein that stimulates neural development and growth. The breakthrough garnered the pair a Nobel Prize in physiology or medicine in 1986; Levi-Montalcini was 77 years old. On the eve of her 100th birthday in 2009, she told the Times of London newspaper that she still showed up for work at the European Brain Institute, which she founded, every day [source: Owen]. Asked for advice on how to reach that centenarian threshold, Levi-Montalcini recommended a three-part regimen of minimal sleep, limited food intake and always keeping the brain active and interested [source: Owen].

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Sources

  • Abbott, Alison. "Neuroscience: One hundred years of Rita." Nature. April 1, 2009. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090401/full/458564a.html
  • Atomic Archive. "Lise Meitner (1878 – 1968)." (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.atomicarchive.com/Bios/Meitner.shtml
  • Beede, David et al. "Women in STEM: A Gender Gap in Innovation." U.S. Commerce Department. August 2011. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.esa.doc.gov/sites/default/files/reports/documents/womeninstemagaptoinnovation8311.pdf
  • Bodanis, David. "Ancestors of E=mc2." PBS NOVA. Oct. 11, 2005. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/physics/ancestors-einstein.html
  • Deakin, Michael A. B. "Hypatia and Her Mathematics." The American Mathematical Monthly. Vol. 101. No. 3. March 1994. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.maa.org/pubs/Calc_articles/ma055.pdf
  • Francl, Michelle. "Sex and the citadel of science." Nature Chemistry. Aug. 3, 2011. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.nature.com/nchem/journal/v3/n9/full/nchem.1106.html
  • Levi-Montalcini, Rita. "Autobiography." Nobel Prize. 1986. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/medicine/laureates/1986/levi-montalcini-autobio.html
  • National Science Foundation. "Science and Engineering Indicators 2010." January 2010. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind10/c2/c2h.htm
  • NPR. "Rosalind Franklin: Dark Lady of DNA." Oct. 6, 2002. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.npr.org/programs/atc/features/2002/oct/darklady/
  • Owen, Richard. "The secret of longevity: no food, no husband and no regrets." The Times. April 27, 2009. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://women.timesonline.co.uk/tol/life_and_style/women/article6163496.ece
  • PBS. "Rosalind Franklin." (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/aso/databank/entries/bofran.html
  • Physicists of the African Diaspora. "Shirley A. Jackson." May 27, 1997. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.math.buffalo.edu/mad/physics/jackson_shirleya.html
  • Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. "Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D." May 19, 2010. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://rpi.edu/president/profile.html
  • The New York Times. "Biography of Shirley Ann Jackson, Ph.D. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.nytimes.com/ref/college/faculty/coll_pres_jacksonbio.html
  • The San Diego Supercomputer Center. "Lise Meitner." (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/meitner.html
  • The San Diego Supercomputer Center. "Rosalind Elsie Franklin." (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.sdsc.edu/ScienceWomen/franklin.html
  • Weingarten, Elizabeth. "Ten Mistresses Who Changed History." Slate. Sept. 1, 2011. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.slate.com/slideshow/doublex/ten-mistresses-who-changed-history/#slide_7
  • Zielinski, Sarah. "Hypatia, Ancient Alexandria's Great Female Scholar." Smithsonian. March 15, 2010. (Sept. 9, 2011) http://www.smithsonianmag.com/specialsections/womens-history/Hypatia-Ancient-Alexandrias-Great-Female-Scholar.html

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