90th Birthday: Carl Djerassi

90th Birthday: Carl Djerassi

Author: ChemViews

Carl Djerassi, emeritus professor of Stanford University, CA, USA, celebrates his 90th birthday on October 29, 2013. He is best known for his involvement in the development of oral contraceptive pills.

Today, the University of Frankfurt, Germany, will present Djerassi with an honory doctorate. He has received numerous honory doctorates, but this is the first in honor of his lifetime achievements.


Carl Djerassi
, born 1923 in Vienna, Austria, obtained his Ph.D. for research on the transformation of testosterone into estradiol and related syntheses from the University of Wisconsin, Madison, WI, USA, in 1945. He then worked as a research chemist at CIBA Pharmaceutical Co., Summit, NJ, USA, until 1949, when he became the associate director of chemical research at Syntex, Mexico City, Mexico. It was whilst working here that, together with Luis E. Miramontes and George Rosenkranz, he developed progestin norethindrone, the first steroid contraceptive. Unlike the naturally occurring hormone progesterone, progestin norethindrone is active when administered orally and it is also far more effective than progesterone.

In 1952, Djerassi took up a professorship at Wayne State University, Detroit, MI, USA. He moved to Stanford University in 1959 and he has been there ever since, first as a Professor and then, after 2002, as a Professor Emeritus. From 1957 until 1972, he also held various posts at Syntex, including that of President of Syntex Research from 1968 until 1972. In 1968, he helped found Zoecon Corporation, Palo Alto, CA, USA, a company dedicated to developing novel approaches to insect control, and served as its board chairman until 1988.

Djerassi has published over 1200 articles on natural products, applications of physical measurements, and computer artificial intelligence techniques to organic chemical problems.

Djerassi is also a novelist and playwright. He began publishing poems and short stories in literary magazines in 1986 and has since written a collection of short stories. From 1997 onwards, he has concentrated on play-writing, initially in the genre of science-in-theatre created by him. His plays include An Immaculate Misconception, which premiered in 1998, and Oxygen, co-authored with Roald Hoffmann.

Djerassi has received 32 honorary doctorates together with numerous awards including: the first Wolf Prize in Chemistry (1978); the Priestley Medal (1992), which is the highest award of the American Chemical Society (ACS); the Great Merit Cross of Germany (2003); the Gold Medal of the American Institute of Chemists (2004); and the Great Silver Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria (2008). In 1978 he was inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and in 2005 the Austrian Post Office issued a stamp in his honor.


Selected publications by Djerassi:

Also of interest:

  • Book Review: Chemistry in Theatre,
    ChemViews Magazine 2013.
    Carl Djerassi’s latest book, Chemistry in Theatre, is reviewed by Stefan Böschen, Karlsruher Institut für Technologie, Germany

Webpage of Carl Djerassi

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