A chemist, a poet, a playwright
February 1, 2015 1:57 PM   Subscribe

Carl Djerassi, the chemist who synthesised the active ingredient in the first successful combined contraceptive pill, died on January 30 2015 at the age of 91. In addition to his work as a scientist, which yielded more than 1000 papers, he wrote novels, plays and poems.

His obituary appears in the New York Times.

About his role in the development of the pill, he commented:
Yes, I am proud to be called the father of the pill . . . But identifying scientists is really only a surrogate for identifying the inventions or discoveries. Maybe it is true that Shakespeare’s plays would never have been written if it wasn’t for Shakespeare. But I’m certain that if we didn’t do our work, then someone else would have come along shortly afterwards and done it.
Statement of the Family of Dr. Carl Djerassi:
Dr. Carl Djerassi, renowned scientist, author, and philanthropist, died peacefully, surrounded by family and loved ones, in his home in San Francisco, California on Friday, January 30, 2015. Dr. Djerassi’s death resulted from complications due to cancer. He was 91. His life and career included remarkable productivity and achievement in science, academia, and the arts, as well as personal tragedy in his expulsion from his childhood home following the Nazi Anschluss in 1938 and the death of his daughter in 1978.

Dr. Djerassi is survived by his son, Dale Djerassi, stepdaughter Leah Middlebrook, and grandson, Alexander M. Djerassi. He will be missed dearly.
posted by James Scott-Brown (18 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
He also sponsored the Djerassi Resident Artists Program in Woodside, CA. I have been meaning to get out there for years to go on one of the tours and never realized who Djerassi was.
posted by sacrifix at 2:28 PM on February 1, 2015

I enjoyed his autobiography, The Pill, Pymy Chimps, and Degas' Horse.

He was Science GoH at ConFusion, not long after that book came out. He was a friendly and gracious guest, though I'm not sure what he thought he was getting into, attending a science fiction convention. I think he was kinda bemused by it all.
posted by elizilla at 2:38 PM on February 1, 2015

His work was world-changing.
posted by kyrademon at 2:52 PM on February 1, 2015 [3 favorites]

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posted by mochapickle at 2:54 PM on February 1, 2015 [9 favorites]

His work was world-changing.

Absolutely. This cannot be overstated. The modern world rests on birth control, clean water and medicine (antibiotics and vaccine to be precise).
posted by St. Peepsburg at 3:07 PM on February 1, 2015 [5 favorites]

posted by lalochezia at 3:50 PM on February 1, 2015

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 4:06 PM on February 1, 2015

. World changer.
posted by Fibognocchi at 4:11 PM on February 1, 2015

posted by Miko at 4:28 PM on February 1, 2015

I met Djerrasi a few years back at a presentation he gave for his book Four Jews on Parnassus, a book about Theodore Adorno, Walter Benjamin, Arnold Schönberg, and Gershom Scholem. And then there was his gallery of Paul Klee works at the SF Museum of Modern Art. He may have been instrumental in inventing The Pill but this guy was a real embodiment of a Renaissance person. Quite inspiring to meet and have a conversation with...
posted by njohnson23 at 4:55 PM on February 1, 2015 [2 favorites]

posted by Sublimity at 5:08 PM on February 1, 2015

When I was in grad school at the University of Wisconsin, I took a class on NMR spectroscopy, one part of which was to take an unknown and identify it. The unknowns used were part of a library that Djerassi had synthesized about 50 years before as part of his own grad work at the UW. The name on the vial got me curious, and led me to reading about him and reading a few of his books. They were a pretty good intro to science culture for a kid who had no idea what she was getting into. And of course, his early hormonal work helped me to be in grad school in the first place. May we all come to help others in so many subtle ways.

posted by tchemgrrl at 5:16 PM on February 1, 2015 [1 favorite]

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posted by Fongotskilernie at 6:40 PM on February 1, 2015 [12 favorites]

posted by thug unicorn at 9:22 PM on February 1, 2015

posted by Didymium at 3:59 AM on February 2, 2015

posted by poxandplague at 4:48 AM on February 2, 2015

More analysis (especially on the Nobel Prize not being awarded to him) at Chembark, The Curious Wavefunction and In The Pipeline. The wavefunction link is the most useful for those unfamiliar with the man's impact.
posted by lalochezia at 8:32 AM on February 2, 2015 [3 favorites]

I am another person lucky enough to have met and spoken to Djerassi. He was so interesting, and was willing to treat me - a complete stranger - as an interesting person worth talking to simply because I came up and spoke to him. As others have remarked, he was a truly fascinating and multi-faceted individual who could be very humble about his abilities and contributions to society.
posted by Megami at 12:18 AM on February 3, 2015

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