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Carl Djerassi

Professor of Chemistry
PhD, University of Wisconsin–Madison (1945)
AB, summa cum laude, Kenyon College (1941)
Honors / Awards
ACS Award in Pure Chemistry (1958)
National Medal of Science (1973)
Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1978, the 1st year of the award)
National Inventors Hall of Fame (1978)
National Medal of Technology (1991)
ACS Priestley Medal (1992)
Member, US National Academy of Sciences
Member, American Academy of Arts and Sciences
among many others

A remarkable chemist who produced more than 1,200 scientific papers, Proessor Carl Djerassi was also a man of literature and dedicated proponent of the arts. Beginning in the 1940s, he was a key figure in the first syntheses of antibiotics as well as the hormones cortisone and norethindrone. The latter led to development of the first birth control pill, earning Professor Djerassi the moniker "Father of the Pill." He made seminal contributions to tools for structural studies, including mass spectrometry, magnetic circular dichroism and optical rotatory dispersion. In his later years, he focused on his second career, in literature. He wrote poetry and authored many successful plays and novels, weaving science into their storylines. In 1979, he founded the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside, California, which has provided artists' residencies to more than 2,000 artists in the visual arts, literature, choreography and music composition since its inception.

Professor Djerassi was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1923 to a dermatologist, and dentist and physician. In 1938 to 1939, he and his mother moved to Bulgaria, then to the United States, to escape the rise of Nazi rule in Europe. At only 16 he entered junior college, going on to complete his undergraduate studies at age 18 (summa cum laude,Kenyon College). He completed doctoral studies at the University of Wisconsin (PhD 1945) before joining CIBA Pharmaceuticals as a research chemist, where he developed one of the first commercial antihistamines. At 26, he accepted a position as associate director of research for Syntex in Mexico City. There, he and colleagues advanced hormone synthesis methods, including that leading to oral contraceptives. He joined the Stanford Chemistry faculty in 1959 as one of the first faculty appointments made by then department Chair William Johnson, becoming a leader in a period that transformed the department and established its world-class standing.

Memorial Resolution: Carl Djerassi

Obituary, The Stanford Report

Obituary, Reuters