Outline Biography – Carl Djerassi

Carl Djerassi was born in Vienna, Austria, and received his education at Kenyon College (A.B. summa cum laude, 1942) and the University of Wisconsin (Ph.D., 1945). After four years as research chemist with CIBA Pharmaceutical Co. in Summit, New Jersey, he joined Syntex, S.A., in Mexico City in 1949 as associate director of chemical research. In 1952 he accepted a professorshipof chemistry first at Wayne State University, and in 1959 at Stanford University where he became Prof. Emeritus in 2002.

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 helped found Zoecon Corporation, a company dedicated to developing novel approaches to insect control, serving as its chief executive officer until 1983. He continued until 1988 as chairman of the board of Zoecon (now a subsidiary of Novartis, Ltd).

Djerassi has published over twelve hundred articles and seven monographs dealing with the chemistry of natural products (steroids, alkaloids, antibiotics, lipids, and terpenoids), and with applications of physical measurements (notably 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 the initial developments in the fields of oral contraceptives (Norethindrone), antihistamines (Pyribenzamine) and topical corticosteroids (Synalar).

For the first synthesis of a steroid contraceptive, Djerassi received the National Medal of Science (1973), the first Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1978), and was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame (1978). He received the National Medal of Technology for his contributions in the insect control field (1991). The American Chemical Society honored him with its Award in Pure Chemistry (1958), Baekeland Medal (1959), Fritzsche Award (1960), Award for Creative Invention (1973), Award in the Chemistry of Contemporary Technological Problems (1983), Priestley Medal (1992), and the Willard Gibbs Medal (1997). Other recognitions include the American Institute of Chemists Freedman Foundation Patent Award (1970) as well as its Chemical Pioneer Award (1973), the Society for Chemical Industry’s Perkin Medal (1975), the Bard Award in Medicine and Science (1983), the Roussel Prize (Paris) (1988), the Discoverer’s Award of the Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association (1988), the Gustavus John Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest (1989), the first Award for the Industrial Application of Science (1990) from the National Academy of Sciences, the Nevada Medal (1992), the Thomson Gold Medal of the International Mass Spectrometry Society (1994), the Prince Mahidol Award (Thailand) in Medicine (1995), the Sovereign Fund Award (1996), the William Procter Prize for Scientific Achievement, Sigma Xi (1998), the Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art (1999), the Othmer Gold Medal of the Chemical Heritage Foundation (2000), the Author’s Prize of the German Chemical Society (2001), the Erasmus Medal of the Academia Europaea (2003), the Sigillum magnum of the University of Bologna (2003), the Great Merit Cross of Germany (2003), and the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Chemists (2004).

Carl Djerassi is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences and of its Institute of Medicine, as well as a member of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, the Royal Swedish Academy of Engineering Sciences, the German Academy of Natural Scientists (Leopoldina), the Academia Europeae, and the Mexican, Bulgarian, and Brazilian Academies of Sciences. The Royal Society of Chemistry (London) and the American Academy of Pharmaceutical Sciences elected him to honorary membership in 1968. He is the recipient of nineteen honorary doctorates: National University of Mexico (1953); Kenyon College (1958); Federal University of Rio de Janeiro (1969); Worcester Polytechnic Institute (1972); Wayne State University (1974); Columbia University (1975); University of Uppsala (1977); Coe College (1978); University of Geneva (1978); University of Ghent (1985); University of Manitoba (1985); Adelphi University (1993); University of South Carolina (1995); University of Wisconsin (1995); Swiss Fed. Inst. Technol.-ETH (1995); University of Maryland-Baltimore County (1997), the Bulgarian Academy of Sciences (1998); the University of Aberdeen (2000); and Polytechnic University (New York) (2001).

Starting in 1986 has published numerous poems and short stories in literary magazines as well as 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; two autobiographies, Steroids Made it Possible and The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas’ Horse; a poetry chapbook, The Clock Runs Backward; a collection of essays, From the Lab into the World: A Pill for People, Pets, and Bugs; and a memoir, This Man’s Pill: Reflections on the 50th birthday of the Pill.

In 1997, he has started writing “science-in-theatre” plays. The first, AN IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION, premiered at the 1998 Edinburgh Fringe Festival and was subsequently staged in London (New End Theatre in 1999 and Bridewell Theatre in 2002), San Francisco (Eureka), New York (Primary Stages), Vienna (Jugendstiltheater), Cologne (Theater am Tanzbrunnen), Munich (Deutsches Museum), Sundsvall (Teater Västernorrland), Stockholm (Dramaten), Sofia (Satire Theatre), Geneva (Theatre du Grütli), Tokyo (Bunkyo Civic Hall Theatre) and Seoul. The play has been translated into 9 languages and also published in book form in English, German, Spanish and Swedish. The BBC broadcast the play in 2000 as “play of the week” on the World Service and the West German Rundfunk (WDR) and Swedish Radio did so in 2001. The second,“OXYGEN,” (co-authored with Roald Hoffmann) premiered in April 2001 at the San Diego Repertory Theatre; in Germany at the Mainfranken Theater in Würzburg (Sept. 2001); in London at the Riverside Studios (Nov. 2001); and subsequently in 2003 in Seoul, Tokyo (Setagaya Tram Theatre), New Zealand (Circa Theatre, Wellington), as well as in Toronto, Ottawa, Madison, WI, Columbus, OH and Bologna, and was broadcast by both BBC World Service and the West German Radio in December 2001. It has already been translated into 10 languages. His third “science-in-theatre” play, “CALCULUS” and his first “non-scientific” play, EGO, opened in 2003 in San Francisco (Performing Arts Library and Museum) and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival (Pleasance) respectively. A modified version of EGO opened in London (King’s Head Theatre) in March 2004 under the title “THREE ON A COUCH.” In addition, he has started on a series of “pedagogic wordplays” to be used in schools in lieu of lectures. The first, “ICSI—Sex in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction” has been published in English and German and performed in schools in the USA, Germany and Austria. The second, “NO,” written with Pierre Laszlo was published in 2003 in English, German and French. Under the auspices of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, he founded an artists colony near Woodside, California, which provides residencies and studio space for approximately seventy artists per year. in the visual arts, literature, choreography, and music. Over 1300 artists have passed through that program since its inception