Carl Djerassi

Djerassi headshot
Carl Djerassi (1923-2015), scientist and author, was born in Vienna in 1923 to a Bulgarian father and Viennese mother, both Jewish. He fled Nazism and arrived in the U.S. in 1939, received his PhD. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin at 22 and moved to Mexico City with the then small pharmaceutical company, Syntex. His team synthesized cortisone from a local yam and, in 1951, the steroid oral contraceptive, norethindrone, the template on which most oral contraceptives are based. He continued to work in industry while becoming a chemistry professor, first at Wayne University (now Wayne State), then at Stanford University. After his third marriage, to Stanford English professor Diane Middlebrook, he closed his laboratories and embarked on a writing career. He divides his time between San Francisco, London, and Vienna. At 90, he has published more than 1,200 scientific papers, four autobiographies (including The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse), five novels, two nonfiction books, 11 plays, two collections of poetry, three collections of essays and short stories, and one art book. He is the founder of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside, California. He has received 32 honorary doctorates and is the winner of the 1992 Priestley Medal, the highest American award in chemistry; he received the National Medal of Science in 1973 and the National Medal of Technology in 1991. (photo: Karen Ostertag)

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