Carl Djerassi (1923–2015)


Few lives at the top of chemistry and industrial accomplishments in the 20th century have been as remarkable as that of Carl Djerassi, who died in San Francisco on January 30 at the age of 91. To a considerable extent, his life became known as ‘fascinating’, catalyzed by his own portrayal of it. This feature of his persona cannot, and will not, dilute the one major scientifi c contribution he made, but it somewhat obfuscated the true picture. Djerassi was born in 1923 in Vienna to secular Jewish parents who were physicians. After a brief move to Bulgaria, his father’s birthplace, Djerassi and his mother returned to Vienna for its cultural richness, including the superior schooling available. After the annexation of Austria by Nazi Germany, his mother and he were among the quota for evacuation to America. Now 16, Djerassi promptly displayed an example of the bravado that would typify his career and life — he sought the intercession of none other than Eleanor Roosevelt for college fi nancial assistance, successfully. After a short stint at Tarkio College in Missouri, where he earned a bit of additional money by giving lectures on Bulgaria and Europe to church groups, he obtained a degree in chemistry from Kenyon College in Ohio, followed by a job at the American branch of the Swiss pharmaceutical company Ciba in Summit, New Jersey. Here, he was part of a group that developed pyribenzamine, a major antihistamine. He stayed at Ciba only a year and then pursued and obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Wisconsin in 1945, followed by a return to Ciba for the next three years. By the late 1940s, word of Djerassi’s talent had spread, notably at the annual Laurentian Hormone Conferences in Quebec, where one of several with open ears was the steroid chemist George Rosenkranz. He had been appointed in 1945 to lead a newly formed company, Syntex, whose goal was to pursue the production of steroids from plant sources, the most timely of such quarries being cortisone. Djerassi joined this intrepid outfi t in 1949 and its fortunes soon rose. Obituary

DOI: 10.1016/j.cub.2015.02.030

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@article{Pederson2015CarlD, title={Carl Djerassi (1923–2015)}, author={Thoru Pederson}, journal={Current Biology}, year={2015}, volume={25}, pages={R263-R264} }