Federica Napolitani Cheyne, Book Rewiews, 19/09/2012

Scienziate d'Italia

In 2011 Italy celebrated its 150th anniversary of unity as a single nation. For this particular occasion Elisabetta Strickland, professor in Algebra at the University of Rome “Tor Vergata”, published Scienziate d’Italia, a delightful tribute to all those Italian women who dedicated their lives to science in the last 150 years. As the subtitle recites, nineteen lives dedicated to research emerge from the pages of this small volume in a vivid and enjoyable way. Nineteen short biographies of women which are a fresco of the different social environments and times in which they lived. Their names, also listed in the cover of the book, are: Giuseppina Aliverti, Massimilla Baldo Ceolin, Margherita Beloch Piazzolla, Giuseppina Biggiogero Masotti, Rita Brunetti, Enrica Calabresi, Maria Cibrario Cinquini, Maria Bianca Cita Sironi, Cornelia Fabri, Elena Freda, Margherita Hack, Rita Levi Montalcini, Eva Giuliana Mameli Calvino, Lydia Monti, Pia Nalli, Filomena Nitti Bovet, Maria Pastori, Livia Pirocchi Tonolli e Pierina Scaramella. Some of these women are well known, like Nobel Prize Rita Levi Montalcini (the only Italian woman to receive this prestigious award) or the astronomer Margherita Hack, others are less familiar to the general public. All of them, however, in their different personal histories, share the same genuine passion for knowledge and courageous determination in pursuing their researches, often in hostile environments and in imposing their ideas in a community formed and ruled chiefly by men. Among these nineteen scientists, Filomena Nitti Bovet deserves a few more words in this book review which is published in the journal of the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS) where she worked along with her beloved husband Daniel Bovet. They both moved from the Pasteur Institute in Paris to Rome and worked side by side, linked and inspired by a common passion. Daniel Bovet received the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine in 1957. Filomena was an exceptional woman for her time and her story deserves to be read as an example to the new generation of young researchers. The obstacles faced and the sacrifices made by these scientists contributed to spread the view that women are not suited only to play domestic roles or be good nurturing mothers, not even in the traditionally moral Italian society of the last century. Today half of the Italian researchers are women, but the so called “crystal roof” is still there to frustrate their career advancement in managerial positions. Gender equality is still a goal to be reached. Strickland’s book is there to remind all of us that “science needs essentially passion and feelings which are virtues commonly considered prerogative of women”.