Q: So I am also wondering what advice would you give young people now. Many young people are not interested in science, and it’s a very exciting time, as you mentioned.
Levi-Montalcini: I’d say, as I always say, that nothing is beautiful as to work on something scientific or social, to be very invested in what you do. I mean, not [to] be afraid, but knowing that you never will go ahead if you don’t do it very seriously and then, as you say, the important [thing] is to be very engaged. What you do you should do well. I will say that it is not as important as scientific or social [work] because I’m also working on social problems, as you know, in Africa. So it is important to know what it is important in life, not just only very simple and stupid things, like being beautiful and successful, this is nonsense.
I always say so, and I have many followers you know. I work here, and I am delighted because excellent people work here, Antonino Cattaneo, Pietro Calissano, I mean, many people, not too many, but some people still understand the importance of being invested in important problems, not in futility.
Rita Levi-Montalcini won the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986 with Stanley Cohen, decades after her groundbreaking work in Italy and the United States. The theory she developed was quite elegant and simple. Competition of nerve cells early in development for limited amounts of growth factors produces winners and losers. The winners are nerve cells that made the correct connections with their targets, and the losers undergo death, which explains the massive amount of programmed cell death that occurs in the peripheral nervous system.