Education and Diaspora the Path of Three Nobel Laureate Students From Their Anatomical Training in Turin to the American Genetic-Molecular Model (1930-1950).


  • Andrea Grignolio Unit and Museum of History of Medicine, Sapienza University of Rome


Fascism , Jewish History, Salvador E. Luria, Rita Levi Montalcini, Renato Dulbecco


Three students who were subsequently awarded the Nobel Prize received part of their training in the Turin laboratory of the anatomist Giuseppe Levi (1872 - 1965): Salvador E. Luria for research on bacterial genetics (1969), Renato Dulbecco on oncogenic viruses (1975) and Rita Levi Montalcini for the discovery of the nerve growth factor (1986). It is a rare case in the history of science, especially considering the different paths that his three pupils took in the US after their common internship in Levi’s laboratory which focused on the microanatomy of the nervous system. Trying to reconstruct the reasons for these professional successes, in their autobiographies, all three students recognized the great merits of their master’s methodology (dedication and rigor in the job, the setting up and publication of the experiment, strictness and encouragement in the evaluations), while identifying the move to US labs as the decisive factor in their careers (research policy, meritocracy and substantial funding). In this contribution, I will attempt to trace the paths that made it possible for three students from an Italian school based on histology and microscopic anatomy according to the German tradition to become three Nobel laureates in various disciplines based on a molecular approach. Understanding how this ‘metamorphosis’ occurred means reconstructing how individual micro-histories, coming from a local scientific and methodological context -laboratory techniques, religious backgrounds, fortuitous choices, friendships and academicrelations-, merged with macro-histories involving national politics, the Second World War, and institutional and disciplinary divisions.