Ever wonder how something as vast and complex as your nervous system formed? This week for Women’s History Month we’re spotlighting renowned neurobiologist Rita Levi-Montalicini. She was awarded the 1986 Nobel Prize (with colleague Stanley Cohen) for the discovery of nerve growth factor (NGF). The NGF gene gives instructions for making a protein called nerve growth factor beta which is important in the development of nerve cells (neurons) that transmit pain, temperature, and touch sensations (sensory neurons).

During World War II, Rita set up a laboratory in her bedroom and studied the growth of nerve fibers in chicken embryos.  Years later as a research associate at Washington University she was able to duplicate the results of her home experiments, and in 1952, she isolated nerve growth factor (NGF) from observations of certain cancerous tissues that caused extremely rapid growth of nerve cells.

Rita died in Rome on December 30th, 2012 at the age of 103, but her legacy lives on having revolutionized the study of neural development.

“I tell young people: Do not think of yourself, think of others. Think of the future that awaits you, think about what you can do and do not fear anything.” – Rita Levi-Montalicini

Download our FREE Grade 4 Nervous System Lesson ( with answers or without answers ) from our Elevate Science K-8 program OR explore a curated list of OpenEd interactive teaching resources about the nervous system on Realize™ today: Request free demo access to Elevate K-8 on Realize now.


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Michael Comer

Michael Comer

STEM Author

Note: Fresh Ideas for Teaching blog contributors have been compensated for sharing personal teaching experiences on our blog. The views and opinions expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of any other agency, organization, employer or company.

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