Monday, December 31, 2012

Rita Levi-Montalcini, growth factor pioneer

Yesterday, the scientific community lost another of its great people, Rita Levi-Montalcini.

In The Human Body in Health & Disease and Structure & Function of the Body, I wrote this about Levi-Montalcini:
Rita Levi-Montalcini had just finished a medical degree in her native Italy when in 1938 the Fascist government under Mussolini barred all “non-Aryans” from working in academic and professional careers. Being Jewish, Levi-Montalcini was forced to move to Belgium to work. But when Belgium was about to be invaded by the Nazis, she decided to return home to Italy and work in secret. Her home laboratory was very crude, but in it she made some important discoveries about how the nervous system develops during embryonic development. After World War II, she was invited to Washington University in St. Louis to work. There, she discovered the existence of nerve growth factor (NGF), for which she later won the 1986 Nobel Prize. Her discovery of a chemical that regulates the growth of new nerves during early brain development has led to many different paths of investigation. For example, by learning more about growth regulators we now know more about how the nervous system develops, as well as other tissues, organs, and systems of the body.
Note that I put in a little plug for my hometown of St. Louis, where we continue to be proud of this remarkable woman and her pioneering work.

As I said in a recent post about the passing of transplant pioneer Joseph Murray, I think the occasional story of a pioneer in the history of human science adds a lot to the A&P course.  Such stories give a human dimension to the pursuit of science and provide the context needed for students to understand how we know what we know.  Levi-Montalcini's story gives us the further opportunities to weave into our courses the themes of global collaboration among the scientific community as the role of women in science.

Want to know more?

  • Nobel Scientist Rita Levi-Montalcini Dies in Rome
  • Oldest Nobel winner Rita Levi-Montalcini dies at 103
  • Nobel Lecture by Rita Levi-Montalcini 
    • Media Player at
    • [Full video (in English) of Nobel lecture by Rita Levi-Montalcini in which she fully credits "good luck"; 57 minutes]

  • Rita Levi-Montalcini Interview
    • Adam Smith, Editor-in-Chief of
    • Nobel Interview, November 2008
    • [Video interview with Rita Levi-Montalcini, who talks about her daily work, why she had to make a laboratory in her bedroom to conduct research during World War II (3:06), the benefits of working in isolation (5:03), her post-war move to the United States (6:25), her work with Stanley Cohen and the discovery of nerve growth factor (7:15), the roles of intuition and chance in biological research (15:14), her current research (16:58), her advice to young scientists (17:41), and why this period of her life has been the best so far (28:10).]

  • The Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine 1986 Press Release
    • [Detailed news release that includes some simple diagrams that help illustrate the concepts involved.]
  • In Praise of Imperfection: My Life and Work
    • Rita Levi-Montalcini
    • Sloan Foundation Science Series, October 1989
    • [Her autobiography]

Related textbook content
  • Anatomy & Physiology 8th ed.  p. 409, 1111-1113, A&P Connect: The Nobel Legacy
  • Essentials of Anatomy & Physiology p. 231-232, 241, 610-612  
  • The Human Body in Health and Disease 5th ed. p. 236-237, 644-645, 658 
  • Structure & Function of the Body 14th ed. p. 168-169, 472-473

Photo: Presidenza della Repubblica Italiana

Monday, December 3, 2012

Help your students reduce test anxiety

Final exams are almost upon us. So last week, I posted an article on reducing test anxiety my blog The A&P Student

Recent research has revealed an easy and effective trick for reducing test anxiety.  Simply take about ten minutes before the start of your exam to have students journal their anxiety.

Research shows that if your students spend about ten minutes to write out (not just think about) their feelings at the moment, they’ll feel less anxious during the exam.  And because of that (the research shows) they will do better on the exam! 

On average, students that use this technique raise their grade and average of one whole letter grade.  So even if you think it’s silly—or a time waster—isn’t it worth trying?

Students in a research study reported that by writing out their feelings, they quickly got to a point of calm and confidence.  The writing somehow took the energy out of the anxiety and replaced nervousness with readiness. 

Don’t collect the writing, by the way.  Students must be confident that their writings are private for this to work.

Let me know if you try in your classroom and whether you were able to notice a difference.

Want to know more?

Read the story behind this trick:

Testing Anxiety: Researchers Find Solution To Help Students Cope

And here’s the research behind the story:

Writing About Testing Worries Boosts Exam Performance in the Classroom
Gerardo Ramirez, Sian L. Beilock
Science 14 January 2011: Vol. 331 no. 6014 pp. 211-213 DOI: 10.1126/science.1199427

The related article from The A&P Student

Trick to reduce test anxiety

Check out my advice on breathing to reduce test anxiety:

Don’t forget to breathe!

Some advice for A&P students on preparing well for exams:

Previous articles on exam strategies

Brief video on preparing for exams


Photo by Josh Davis under CC license