Published 17 June 2010 by Beatrice Lugger

Historical lectures I: Rita Levi-Montalcini

I am one of the lucky people who may attend the Lindau Nobel Laureate Meeting several times. This will be my third time. But there’s a big BUT: The more often I have been, the more sad I am about all the other meetings I have missed. This year, the Lindau meetings celebrate their 60th anniversary and the list of Laureates and lectures is the largest in the history of the meeting. One of the most outstanding persons I have never had chance to listen or even talk to at Lindau is the Grand Dame of Sciences Rita Levi-Montalcini (101).

Miraculously the Lindau colleagues brought some golden treasures from their archives to the public. On their online platform, we can listen to Rita Levi-Montalcini’s lecture from 1993. If I counted correctly, there are currently over 130 lectures available in this online library in form of podcasts and videos (since 2004). I want to mention just a few of them to give you an idea to whom one might listen: Otto Hahn, Werner Heisenberg, Sir Chandrasekhara Raman, William Bragg, Paul Dirac… It is difficult to decide to whom you want to listen first, isn’t it? You want to hear them all!

To help you, I will introduce to you my favourite lectures, beginning with the Grand Dame I adore : Rita Levi-Montalcini. I adore this 101 year-old medical doctor…

  • for her achievements – the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, which she received in 1986 together with Stanley Cohen for their discoveries of growth factors, especially the nerve growth factor neurotrophin, is just one example;
  • because of her strong will – under Mussolini, she was refused access to the academies due to her status as an ‘non-Aryan’ woman, yet she did not give up and continued her research;
  • because of her commitment to others and much more. I recommend to read this article celebrating her 100th birthday by Nature.
  • And not least I adore her because of this lecture, "The Magna Charta of Duties" in which she reminds humanity to act responsibly.

Levi-Montalcini refers in her presentation to various declarations such as the Stockholm Declaration of the United Nations Conference on the Human Environment and tells the young generation of researchers of their duty to be aware of their responsibility for the survival of mankind and the preservation of the environment. For me, it is a duty to listen to her lecture and to pursue her appeals.


The Magna Charta of Duties

Rita Levi-Montalcini, 1993 – 43th Meeting of Nobel Laureates



38:20 Young people here should be well aware of the importance of science and the necessity of science to go on. We cannot stop it unless we want to kill homo sapiens themselves

23:04 The main thesis is something rather new – that is just for young people: The stipulation of a new moral contract between the older and the younger generations based on the principle of the total equality and not as presently based on a paternalistic or hierarchical system and on a worldwide resolution to uphold this contract in view of the above mentioned obligation.

20:52 Scientists we believe are henceforth obligated to pay a third of their knowledge by sacrificing a portion of their careers in order to make an informative contribution to the public debate on wider issues of our times on which depends the survival of mankind.

Beatrice Lugger

Beatrice Lugger is a science journalist and science social media specialist with a background as a chemist. She is Scientific Director of the National Institute for Science Communication, NaWik – @BLugger is her twitter handle, Quantensprung her own blog.