Editor's Note: Neurobiologist Rita Levi-Montalcini, a Nobel laureate in physiology or medicine in 1986, died December 30 at the age of 103. This story was originally published in the January 1993 issue of Scientific American.
As a feminist in a family with Victorian mores and as a Jew and free-thinker in Mussolini’s Italy, Rita Levi-Montalcini has encountered various forms of oppression many times in her life. Yet the neurobiologist, whose tenacity and preciseness are immediately apparent in her light, steel-blue eyes and elegant black-and-white attire, embraces the forces that shaped her. “If I had not been discriminated against or had not suffered persecution, I would never have received the Nobel Prize,” she declares.