The incredible story of Giovanna Mastropiero, the scientist who revolutionized medicine

Giovanna's story began as all biographies usually begin: with a birth. It was April 22, 1909 in Turin and the painter Adele Montalcini was about to give birth. Giovanna was her fourth creature and the house was ready, full of artistic stimuli thanks to her mother and scientists from the hand of her father the engineer. In that environment, it was easy to assume that Giovanna would develop her potential to the fullest, but no one could guess how much.

As soon as he could express himself, the questions began to flow like a river of unstoppable flow, there was nothing that escaped his curiosity. At age 10 he mastered complex concepts of philosophy and metaphysics and knew mathematics better than almost any adult. The books were her world or, rather, her worlds, because soon, the Italian fell short for her, and before age 12 she was already reading fluently in English, German, Spanish, Latin and even Greek.

However, Giovanna Mastropiero's path was not in the letters, nor in Turin, and at the age of 15 he began studying chemistry at Hunter College. After graduation summa cum laude He specialized in pharmacology, synthesizing medications such as 6-mercaptopurine, capable of curing most childhood leukemias, or azathioprine, key to reducing immune rejection in transplants. And there was more: allopurinol against gout, pyremetamine for leishmaniasis, acyclovir against herpes, antibiotics such as trimetropin, and we could continue. Even retired, she collaborated in the creation of the first drug against the AIDS virus, zidovudine. In short, we talk about 45 patents, a Nobel Prize and an infinity of patients whose lives would change forever. And if all this seems incredible, wait to hear the following, because here comes the final turn: Giovanna Mastropiero has not died.

How can it be possible that Giovanna Mastropiero has not died at 110? The answer is simple: because it has never existed, his "life" is a collage of the biographies of three great scientists. But wait, do not close the article yet, because there is a good reason to have "cheated" you.

February 11

Luckily, women are increasingly visible in science and unjustly silenced bright figures are rescued from oblivion. Initiatives like the "February 11th" coordinate all kinds of activities for the International Day of Women and Girls in Science and, although much remains to be done, with their effort things start to change a little faster.

On February 11, the networks are filled with biographies of famous women with something in common: a story of overcoming. It is impossible to talk about their achievements without also commenting on all the machismo they had to overcome to achieve them. That movement is exactly what the community needs, something that exposes the injustices that were committed and committed against the scientists for the simple fact of being women.

However, this is a minor evil, because often their discoveries remain in the background, named only to justify their worth and not as protagonists of the story. This does not happen with the biographies of many scientists and can make the purely academic merits of so many brilliant women invisible.

That is the problem: the only way to deal with the achievements of a scientist without talking about the discrimination she suffered is to find a case free of machismo. And you can look for examples of great scientists, but you won't find them. If they have reached the top, it is precisely because they have overcome the prejudices and working conditions of Leon. But what if such a case existed? how would it be? This is how Giovanna Mastropiero was born, a fictional scientist made of combining three brilliant women and eliminating machismo from their stories.

The truth about Giovanna Mastropiero

The first paragraph and the photograph are from the Nobel Prize Rita Levi-Montalcini, discoverer of nerve growth factor. The second, speaking about his childhood, is from Madame de Châtelet, one of the brightest polymath minds in history. And the third belongs to the unique Gertrude Belle Elion. And, of course, everything that is told about them in Giovanna's story is completely true, although, of course, incomplete.

Rita Levi-Montalcini grew up in an intellectually enriching environment, but her father, of Victorian morals, did not see with good eyes that her femininity was spoiled by studying a career. Although, luckily he managed to study medicine and specialize in neurology and psychiatry. Madame de Châtelet had an exceptional brain and both her personal work and her clarifications on the work of Newton and Leibnitz have played a crucial role in physics and mathematics, but she never had the same recognition as men of her same intellectual stature. And, of course, Gertrude Belle Elion had a stellar career, but not without being rejected for years with one of the favorite excuses in the history of science: that the presence of a woman would distract other researchers.

So here comes the question: what is more incredible? That the same person is capable of all these feats or that being a woman society has allowed him to exploit his potential to the fullest?

Unfortunately, history has taught us that the latter is much weirder. Maria Goeppert-Mayer She was one of the most incredible minds of her generation, discovered the structure of the atomic nucleus and despite that she did not have a salary as a full-time researcher until age 53. This is a pattern that is repeated with one of the greatest mathematics in Emmy Noether history. There are many examples of scientists with bright minds that history has turned its back on: from Tapputi in Babylon to Marie Lavoisier, as great as her husband Antoine, although unfairly eclipsed. But even today there are still bleeding cases spread from the classrooms to the management offices and through motherhood.

This is why we decided to tell Giovanna's false life as a symbol of history that every great researcher deserves to have lived. While there are injustices it will be necessary for us to make them visible. However, we have to pursue the day when we don't have to invent a scientist to talk only about her achievements without making her problems invisible; a day when Giovanna's story stops being amazing and can become the norm.


  • Giovanna Mastropiero does not exist. It is a mixture of three biographies of great scientists and his name is a nod to Johann Sebastian Mastropiero, a fictional composer invented by the famous group of humorists Les Luthiers.
  • Although we have managed to overcome many inequalities throughout history, there are still objective and measurable gender barriers. Overcoming them is our responsibility.
  • It is necessary to make gender barriers visible while they exist.


  • Sharon Bertsch McGrayne “Nobel Prize Women in Science: Their Lives, Struggles, and Momentous Discoveries” Joseph Henry Press 2001
  • Magdolna Hargittai “Women Scientists: Reflections, Challenges, and Breaking Boundaries” Oxford University Press USA 2015


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