Dr. Rita Levi-Montalcini, 103-year-old neuroscientist and all-around impressive individual, has passed away this weekend. (2012 has been a bad year to be a personal hero of mine, statistically.)
Graduating medical school in 1930s Italy as a Jewish woman, Levi-Montalcini faced unbelievable amounts of adversity from the beginning of her academic career. Nonetheless, she went on to share the 1986 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine with Stanley Cohen for their discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF). NGF is crucial to the survival of many neurons, and is therefore a focus of ongoing research into disorders where cell growth is abnormal, including dementia.
While her loss remains a loss to us all, Levi-Montalcini was also the first Nobel Laureate to reach 100 years of age, and if that’s not the best that can be hoped for in a lifetime, I don’t know what is.
The Guardian has a profile that is well worth a read. The following is my favorite passage:
“Making her own microsurgical and tissue-manipulating equipment – using, among other things, reshaped domestic sewing needles and modified watchmaker’s tweezers — she began her fruitful investigation into normal and abnormal neural development and its mechanisms of control. Discovery of her activities could have resulted in imprisonment or death, but she attracted little interest by buying fertile eggs to investigate the early phases of nerve growth in chick embryos. As a bonus to concealment, many of the experiments could be eaten when they were finished.”
If you’re anything like me (and I suspect a solid 95% of people are, in some meaningful way), this year has been approximately one half fevered nightmare and one half giddy joy. Which is probably the human condition, or whatever. But with recent and less-recent events making me feel like life is an overwhelming horror, I thought it would be nice to dwell on the positives of the past cycle around the sun.
It’s the winter solstice today! Axial tilt: it’s the reason for the season. The days are going to start getting longer again, which is in itself something to be thankful for.
The first thing I am grateful for this year is the ability to find beauty anywhere. My un-love for LA in my last days there furnished me with a brand new motto: “You will find joy wherever you go, idiot.” And three weeks in South Bend provided additional proof, should any be required.
A sunrise in South Bend, of all things. Who’d’ve guessed?
2012 was also a fantastic year in pop culture. By which I mean I Netflixed a bunch of tv shows from the 90s. By which I mean that if I had done nothing else this year but watch Babylon 5 for the first time, it would have been a good year. By which I mean I may have a slight Babylon 5 addiction.
Fortunately, I also happened to graduate college (what?), attend two kickass weddings, read a lot of cool stuff, and get a job (again, what?).
We have a guest post today! My friend Jackie writes a history blog called “Little Histories“, where she posts about such varied subjects as Richard III and the history of the martini (in honor of James Bond, naturally). For her most recent post, I wrote on Charles Darwin and evolution, and she wrote about the historical context of Darwin’s time. Enjoy!
Darwin and Victorian Society