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Carl Djerassi

American Jewish Inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame

Carl Djerassi: Inducted into
the National Inventors Hall
of Fame-1978

by Seymour “Sy” Brody

Carl Djerassi is an American Jewish inductee into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, in 1978, for his breakthroughs in chemistry and for his effective translation of theory into practice. He is recognized for establishing physical methods for determining organic molecular structure and the synthesis of many steroids.

He was born on October 29, 1921, in Vienna, Austria. His mother was an Austrian Ashkenazi Jew and his father was a Bulgarian Sephardic Jew. His parents met at the medical school of Vienna University. They were married and moved to Bulgaria. He was born in Vienna because his mother wanted him to be born there.

When he was sixteen years old, he and his mother emigrated to the United States to escape the Nazi regime. She had difficulty practicing medicine in America and she joined a medical group until she retired.

Djerassi was a Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Kenyon College with a B.A. in organic chemistry, in 1942. He went to work for Ciba and received his first patent for the antihistamine Pyribenzamine. He married his first wife Virginia, in 1n 1943. He graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison, with a Ph.D. in 1945. In the same year he became a United States citizen.

He then became an associate director of research at Syntex, in Mexico City. He worked on a new oral birth control pill. In 1959, Djerassi became a professor of chemistry at Stanford University and the president of Syntex laboratories in Mexico City.

He organized a new company called Zoecon which developed modified insect growth hormones to control fleas and other insect pests. With his connection to Syntex and his company, Djerassi became a wealthy person.

He married his second wife, Norma Lundholm, and they had a son and daughter. Djerassi was a very prolific author of fiction (three books), nonfiction (eight books) and science and fiction (four books). He is also a dramatist. He wrote four plays.

He received awards and honors:
■ Perkin Medal, 1975
■ National Medal of Science
■ Inducted into the National Inventors Hall of Fame, 1978
■ National Medal of technology, 1991
■ Priestley Medal, 1992
■ Austrian Cross of Honor for Art and Science First Class, 1990
■ Austria issued a postage stamp with his picture on it.
■ A member of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientist
■ Chairman of the Pharmanex Scientific Advisory Board

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