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Carl Djerassi

Known as the "The Father of the Pill," Carl Djerassi was a former professor of chemistry at Stanford University. His invention of the birth control pill significantly changed people's attitude towards sex as well as the role women played in society. In 1999, Djerassi was named one of thirty most influential people of the last millennium by UK based The Times. His contraceptive invention was also included in the list of One Hundred Major Inventions that Changed Human History.

Carl Djerassi was born in Austria in 1923. His mother was Austrian and his father Bulgarian, but their marriage ended very early. When Djerassi was 16 years old, he and his mother moved to the US where he studied chemistry. He won his first patent when he was 19 years old. Djerassi earned his 1945 Ph.D. in 1945 from the University of Wisconsin.

In 1951, Djerassi led a research team in Mexico City to successfully develop norethindrone, an essential ingredient of the modern oral contraceptive. As the world's first person to introduce the synthetic steroid oral birth control pill, he was popularly called the “father of artificial contraceptives”. These drugs contain the female sex hormone progesterone and synthetic ingredients that stops pregnancy by preventing ovulation .

In his book “This Man's Pill”, Djerassi stated the birth control pill invention changed his life and he became more concerned with how science could affect society. In 1969, Djerassi submitted a public policy article discussing the global impact of the US contraceptive research. In 1970, he published another article about the feasibility of contraceptives. "These two public policy articles convinced me that it’s politics rather than science that will affect the birth control of mankind," He wrote.

Today, the introduction of the oral contraceptives has gone through 65 years and it’s still full of interesting developments. To separate it from other categories of pills so it can be easily identified, most drugstores in the U.S. simply use the word pill with its first letter capitalized (Pill) as a proper noun for the contraceptives.

The Pill's invention not only liberated women but also men from their body and mind, freeing them from the anxiety, panic and burden about pregnancy. In 2000, during the Millennium celebrations, the Pill was chosen as one of the most important inventions in human history during the second millennium.

Djerassi made great achievements in the field of chemistry, publishing over 1,200 scientific papers and seven monographs; his research fields spanned natural substances (such as steroids , alkaloids , antibiotics, terpenoids , etc. ) chemical, physical measurements ( optical rotatory dispersion, mass spectrometry , etc. ) as well as a variety of subjects from the computer artificial intelligence to organic chemistry . In addition to synthesizing steroids, he made pioneering advances in understanding how nature makes molecules, known as biosynthesis, and elucidating the biosynthesis of marine natural products.

In pharmaceutical chemistry, he was involved in the initial development of oral contraceptives, antihistamines, corticosteroids and other drugs. Throughout his life, Djerassi won more than 30 awards and medals. He was the only scientist to win back to back awards with the US National Medal of Science and the National Medal of Technology (as a result of his contribution to insect control research.) He was the first winner of the International Wolf Prize in Chemistry, as well as the American Chemical Society's highest award - Priestley Award. In 1999, Djerassi was chosen as one of “The 30 Most Important People of the Millennium” by UK based The Times.

Djerassi only missed one major award - the Nobel Prize. However, many people believe that despite Djerassi never won the Nobel Prize, his major achievement in the field of contraception is absolutely Nobel level. Coincidentally, his first novel “Cantor's Dilemma” (literally translated as Nobel Prisoner) published in 1989 began its story around the Nobel Prize, which pretty well described his feelings.

It is worth mentioning that Carl Djerassi was not completely detached from the commercial development world. In 1959, he became president of Syntex Laboratories in Mexico City and Palo Alto, Calif., a connection that made him wealthy. In Woodside, Calif., near Palo Alto, he bought 1,200 acres, started a cattle ranch and began collecting art, particularly paintings by Paul Klee, the German-Swiss Expressionist. In 1968, Dr. Djerassi founded Zoecon, a company that developed insect controls using modified insect growth hormones to prevent metamorphoses from larval to pupal and adult stages. But in 1952, he received the first iniversity chemistry professor position at Wayne State University in Detroit, and in 1959 he became professor of chemistry at Stanford University, until 2002 he became Professor Emeritus at the school.

Djerassi turned to literature after retirement and published five novels and three plays. Djerassi once said that his original motivation for engaging in literary creation stemmed from his need of expressions after an emotional trauma he suffered with love. Prior to beginning his writing career, Djerassi maintained a four-year relationship with a female professor of literature at Stanford University. But one day the woman professor suddenly left him without any explanations and circumstances. When he learned that the woman fell in love with an East Coast writer, he asked himself: “Is a writer more attractive than a chemist?” Next, the “retaliation” began.

Djerassi wanted to prove that he was also a writer of substance. One year after his girlfriend left him, he completed his first novel. He sent the manuscript to his ex-girlfriend. The ex-girlfriend then made a proposal that if Djerassi didn’t make the novel public, she would marry him. Later, they were married.

Another reason that Djerassi said that he got involved in literature was because literature differed from natural sciences entirely in terms of intellectual activities. He published several novels in what he called “science-in-fiction” genre, including: “Cantor's Dilemma”, “The Bourbaki Gambit”, and “NO”. He also wrote or co-wrote a number of plays such as “An Immaculate Misconception : Sex in an Age of Mechanical Reproduction” “Oxygen” and “Phallacy”, as well as his personal autobiography “The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse: The Remarkable Autobiography of the Award-Winning Scientist Who Synthesized the Birth Control Pill.”

He used fiction to express his thinking about scientists and the scientific community. He also published a number of poems, essays and short stories. Djerassi built an art ranch near San Francisco, and provided workplace accommodations for artists. Since 1982, more than 1,300 artists in the visual arts, literature, dance, music received his sponsorship.

On January 31, 2015, Carl Djerassi died of complications from cancer at his home in San Francisco. He was 91.

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