Rita Levi-Montalcini
Some of the happiest people manage to satisfy not one, but several interests. Consider Rita Levi-Montalcini, who was no ordinary scientist.

Her scientific discoveries explained how nerves growing out from an embryonic spinal cord find the specific developing limbs they will innervate, or supply with nerves, according to The Economist. Her work proving the existence of nerve growth factor led to a shared Nobel Prize in Physiology in 1986.

Those findings opened the door to understanding how cells talk and listen to each other, according to Bill Mobley, a neuroscientist at Stanford.

But Levi-Montalcini wasn’t just a nerdy scientist. She was an artist, too. She designed and made her own clothes. She designed her own jewelry.

And she promoted social causes. In 1992, she created an educational foundation that has funded the education of more than 6,000 African women, improving their chances of becoming scientists, Nature reports.

An active socialist in her home country of Italy, she became a senator for life in 2001 and votes she cast ensured continued funding for scientific research.

Even as she turned 100, she was not one to rest on her laurels. “It’s not enough what I did in the past,” she told Nature, “there is also the future.”

When Levi-Montalcini died in 2012 at 103, the scientist-artist-philanthropist-politico left behind many legacies. Here’s one suggested by how she lived her life: If many interests energize you, why not pursue them all?

For more:
The Guardian
The Economist

Photo: Courtesy of Bernard Becker Medical Library, Washington University School of Medicine.