University of Manitoba - University Governance - Carl Djerassi, D.Sc., May 29, 1985
Carl Djerassi, D.Sc., May 29, 1985
Carl Djerassi

I have the honour to present Carl Djerassi, Doctor of Philosophy, Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University and Chairman of the Board of Zoecon Corporation and a very distinguished scientist whose many achievements sweep across academic, industrial and political boundaries.

Dr. Djerassi was born in Vienna, Austria, emigrating to the United States as a teenager in 1939. He attended Kenyon College in Ohio, graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in 1942. After a short stay as research chemist at Ciba Pharmaceutical Co., he returned to university, attending the University of Wisconsin where he obtained a Doctor of Philosophy in Chemistry in two years in 1945.

Early in his professional career, Dr. Djerassi became directly involved in the research and development of important new drug entities which have had considerable impact on societal and health problems. He has also been directly responsible for major advances in analytical methodologies which have helped change the course of organic chemistry.

Dr. Djerassi is best known as the inventor of the "birth control pill". In 1951 as head of the research team at Syntex Corporation, he accomplished the synthesis of "norethindrone", which became the principal active ingredient of the first successful oral contraceptive.

About the same time, the same Djerassi research team in a race with other researchers around the world was the first to develop a new relatively simple practical synthesis of another vitally important steroid, "cortisone". The synthesis made possible the production of cortisone in sufficiently large amounts to be of practical use in alleviating the distressing symptoms of arthritis, a widespread chronic disease.

Among his contributions to the development of a variety of analytical techniques for the structural analysis of organic compounds, Dr. Djerassi in the early 1960's started the development of mass spectrometry putting it on a firm comprehensive theoretical basis. His work on mass spectrometry was crucial in making available a technique which is now one of the most widely used physical methods of analysis in organic chemistry.

His current research interests focus on the development of natural products from marine organisms and on the application of computer artificial intelligence techniques to chemical problems.

Dr. Djerassi has long been concerned with lessening the technological and economic gap between the rich and poor countries and in upgrading science in lesser-developed nations. For over a decade he was a member and later Chairman of the U.S. National Academy of Science's Board on Science and Technology for International Development. He has also participated for many years in the Canadian-sponsored Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs. His proposals in these forums have helped spur the formation of advanced research institutes in Mexico, Brazil and Africa.

Besides the more than 1000 articles published on his varied research accomplishments, Dr. Djerassi has also authored or co-authored seven comprehensive scientific books. It is significant that for the period 1961-1976 Dr. Djerassi was the most cited organic chemist in the world.

Dr. Djerassi's fervor for scientific things carry over into his avocations: attending every performance of the San Francisco Opera, skiing in spite of a fused knee, and collecting primitive and modern art.

Madam Chancellor, it is an honor and a privilege for me to ask, in the name of the Senate, that you confer upon Carl Djerassi, the degree of Doctor of Science, honoris causa.