Published On: Mon, Feb 2nd, 2015

Carl Djerassi, Developer of the Oral Contraceptive, Dies at 91

Carl Djerassi

Carl Djerassi, a chemist whose research resulted in the development of the oral contraceptive, did extensive work on the structure of steroids and also patented one of the first antihistamines, passed away at the age of 91 due to complications from liver and bone cancer, as reported by the Jewish Press.

In 1951, Djerassi worked along with Mexican scientist Luis E. Miramontes and George Rosenkrantz to invent progestin norethisterone. This invention was essential to the creation of the oral contraceptive, since progesterone could not remain effective when taken orally.

Djerassi was also known for his literary work, including the “science-in-fiction” genre, which unlike the science fiction designation, deals with scientists and their work. Best known among his novels are titles such as Cantor’s Dilemma, whose protagonist is Dr. Cantor and Chemistry in Theater: Insufficiency, Phallacy or Both?

Carl Djerassi was born in Vienna to Jewish parents. His father Samuel was a dermatologist and specialized in sexually transmitted diseases and his mother, Alice Friedman, was a dentist and a physician. His parents divorced and Carl learned at the same realgymnasium Sigmund Freud had attended. Carl’s father and mother remarried to make it easier for Carl and his mother to escape the Nazis, and the mother and son fled to Bulgaria, where they were safe from Nazi deportation.

In 1939, Djerassi arrived with his mother to the United States, and his father emigrated ten years later. He attended Kenyon College in Ohio where he graduated summa cum laude. In 1949, Djerassi became associate director of research at Syntex in Mexico City, where his findings were revolutionary in the development of the birth control pill.

Carl Djerassi gave generously to the arts, and established the Djerassi Artists Residency. He had his ranch transformed into space for artists to work and moved to a lift in San Francisco.


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