Carl Djerassi#

Obituary, Academia Europaea
Obituary, The Guardian
Obituary, The New York Times
Obituary, Stanford University
Obituary, ORF, Austria (in German)


Carl Djerassi, born in Vienna, received his education at Kenyon College (1942) and the Univ. of Wisconsin (Ph.D., 1945). After 4 years as research chemist with CIBA Pharmaceutical Co. in Summit, NJ, he joined Syntex in Mexico City in 1949 as assoc. director of chemical research. In 1952 he accepted a professorship at Wayne State University, and in 1959 his current position as Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University. Concurrently with his academic positions, he also held various posts at Syntex during the period 1957-1972, including that of President of Syntex Research (1968-1972). In 1968, he founded Zoecon Corp., a company dedicated to novel approaches to insect control, serving as its board chairman until 1988.

Djerassi has published over 1200 articles and 7 scientific monographs dealing with the chemistry of natural products (steroids, alkaloids, antibiotics, lipids, and terpenoids), and with applications of physical measurements (optical rotatory dispersion, magnetic circular dichroism, and mass spectrometry) and computer artificial intelligence techniques to organic chemical problems. In medicinal chemistry he was associated with developments in the fields of oral contraceptives (Norethindrone), antihistamines (Pyribenzamine) and corticosteroids (Synalar).

For the first synthesis of a steroid oral contraceptive, Djerassi received numerous awards including the National Medal of Science (1973), the first Wolf Prize in Chemistry, the Perkin Medal, and the first Award for Industrial Applications of Science from the National Academy of Sciences. In 1991, he was awarded the National Medal of Technology for his initiatives in developing new approaches to insect control. In 1992, the American Chemical Society presented him with its highest honor, the Priestley Medal. He is a member of the National Academy of Sciences, the Institute of Medicine, the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and several foreign academies as well as the recipient of 23 honorary degrees. In 2004, the Austrian post office issued a stamp in his honor.

He is the author of a collection of short stories, The Futurist and Other Stories; five novels, Cantor's Dilemma; The Bourbaki Gambit; Marx, Deceased; Menachem’s Seed; and NO; a scientific autobiography, Steroids Made it Possible; a poetry chapbook, The Clock Runs Backward; his collected memoirs, The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas’ Horse; a collection of essays, From the Lab into the World: A Pill for People, Pets, and Bugs; and most recently (2001) a memoir entitled “This Man’s Pill: Reflections on the 50th birthday of the Pill.” In 1997, he embarked on a “science-in-theatre” trilogy in which the first play, “An Immaculate Misconception,” (translated into 11 languages) focuses on the ethical issues associated with single sperm injection (the ICSI technique). It opened at the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and subsequently as a full, 2-act play in New York, London, San Francisco, Vienna, Cologne, Munich, Stockholm, Sofia, Geneva, Seoul, Tokyo, Los Angeles, Lisbon, Singapore, and Detroit and was broadcast by the BBC as well as by NPR and the West German, Czech and Swedish Radio. The second play, “Oxygen,” written with Roald Hoffmann, premiered in 2001 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre and has already been translated into 15 languages. English and German radio versions were broadcast in December 2001 by the BBC as well as the West German Radio. His third “science-in-theatre” play, “Calculus,” dealing with the Newton/Leibniz priority struggle, premiered in San Francisco and in London and was performed in the Zurich Opera in a musical version (music by Werner Schulze). He has also written three “non-scientific” plays: “Three on a Couch,” (2003-2006 in Edinburgh, London, Austria, Germany, and 2008 in New York), “Phallacy” (2005 in London, 2007 in New York), and “Taboos” (2006 in London and in Graz, 2008 in New York, 2009 in Bulgaria) as well as the docudrama “Four Jews on Parnassus—a Conversation” (2007-2009: London, Cambridge Univ., Univ. of Wisconsin, Las Palmas, Vienna, Berlin, Bayreuth, Stockholm).

Djerassi is the founder of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside, California, which provides residencies and studio space for approximately sixty artists per year in the visual arts, literature, choreography, and music. Over 1900 artists have passed through that program since its inception.

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