Carl Djerassi, Stanford chemistry professor emeritus and “father” of the birth control pill, died on Friday. He was 91.
Djerassi joined Stanford’s chemistry department in 1959 and published over 1,200 scientific articles during his career. Djerassi was best known for synthesizing the protein norethindrone in 1951 with his coworkers. The protein proved to be a key ingredient in the birth control pill and earned him his moniker, even though he himself did not invent the pill.
Djerassi also helped develop a widely used antihistamine. However, Djerassi’s interests extended beyond chemistry – he spent his later years writing novels, short stories and plays.
Born in Vienna in 1923, Djerassi and his family immigrated to the United States in 1939, following the Nazi takeover of Austria. He graduated with honors from Kenyon College at age 18 and earned his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin.
In addition to his time at Stanford, Djerassi briefly taught at Wayne State University, served as President of Syntex Laboratories and founded Zoecon, a company that develops insect control products.
Djerassi died at his home in San Francisco and is survived by his son, Dale Djerassi; his stepdaughter, Leah Middlebrook; and a grandson.
Contact Michael Gioia at mgioia2 ‘at’ stanford.edu.