Rita Levi-Montalcini celebrated her 100th birthday this week. The Italian scientist's experiments led to identification of the nerve growth factor (NGF) for which she and American Stanley Cohen shared the Nobel Prize in Medicine in 1986, when Levi-Montalcini was 77.

Levi-Montalcini was barred from her university job in Turin in the 1930s under the Benito Mussolini regime‘s laws that barred non-Aryan Italian citizens from academic and professional careers.

At one of many celebrations on her career and life hosted by the European Brain Research Institute, a nonprofit which she founded, Levi-Montalcini recalled how she continued her research in an improvised lab in her bedroom until the war ended.

"I should thank Mussolini for having declared me to be of an inferior race. This led me to the joy of working, not any more, unfortunately, in university institutes but in a bedroom," she said.  

Levi-Montalcini bcame an American citizen while she was a professor at Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri, from 1956 to 1977.   She returned to Italy in 1969 to serve as director of the Institute of Cell Biology of the Italian National Research Council in Rome in 1969, until her retirement in 1978.

Levi-Montalcini is a member of numerous scientific academies, including the l'Accademia Nazionale dei Lincei, l'Accademia Pontificia, l'Accademia delle Scienze, the National Academy of Sciences in the United States and the Royal Society in the UK.  She still works.

On her 100th birthday she shared these pearls of wisdom: "Above all, don't fear difficult moments. The best comes from them."