By Lucky Gold & Richa Naik, CNN
When Rita Levi-Montalcini was born in Italy in 1909, girls were expected to marry and have children, but Levi-Montalcini wanted to be a doctor.
Despite her father’s opposition, she graduated from medical school, ready to devote her life to science and research.
However Levi-Montalcini, who was Jewish, was banned from pursuing that dream when Benito Mussolini and the fascists came to power. But that didn’t stop her.
She turned her bedroom into a laboratory, risking her life to conduct research in secret. Levi-Montalcini’s solitary work led her to see what other scientists had missed – a crucial factor that allows cells to grow and develop.
After the war, she came to America to continue her research, creating a new way of understanding conditions like cancer and Alzheimer’s.
In 1986 Levi-Montalcini shared the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine. She continued to work even after her hundredth birthday, making her the oldest living Nobel Laureate.
“At one hundred, I have a mind that is superior, thanks to experience, than when I was twenty,” she said.
Rita Levi-Montalcini died this week at the age of 103. She never married or had children, but leaves behind a legacy of courage and discovery.