Italian Rita Levi Montalcini, who won the Nobel Prize in 1986 with American Stanely Cohen for their discovery of nerve growth factor, died Sunday. Montalcini was a well-known figure in Italy, known for encouraging young women to study science.

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After the war she moved to St. Louis in the United States to work at Washington University, where she went on to make her groundbreaking NGF discoveries.


She also set up a research unit in Rome and in 1975 became the first woman to be made a full member of the Vatican"s Pontifical Academy of Sciences in 1975. She won several other awards for her contributions to medical and scientific research.

Her face was instantly recognisable in Italy and she was well known as a dignified and respected intellectual, a counterbalance to the image of women succeeding through their looks and sexuality, exacerbated during the scandal-plagued era of former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

Two days after her birthday in April this year she posted a note on Facebook saying it was important never to give up on life or fall into mediocrity and passive resignation.

"I"ve lost a bit of sight, and a lot of hearing. At conferences I don"t see the projections and I don"t feel good. But I think more now than I did when I was 20. The body does what it wants. I am not the body, I am the mind," she said.


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Italian Prime Minister Mario Monti said in a statement that Montalcini"s Nobel prize had been an honour for Italy, and praised her efforts to encourage young people, especially women, to play a central role in scientific research.

Editing by Louise Ireland


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Mark Sappenfield
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