A world-renowned chemist and the man widely considered the father of the birth control pill has died, the Associated Press reported. Carl Djerassi, who in the early 1950s helped create a synthetic hormone that would pave the way for oral contraception, died Friday at his home in San Francisco, a spokesperson for Stanford University where Djerassi was a professor of chemistry until 2002, said Saturday. He was 91.
"Carl Djerassi is probably the greatest chemist our department ever had," Richard N. Zare, a professor in natural science at Stanford, said in an obituary released by the university. "I know of no person in the world who combined the mastery of science with literary talent as Carl Djerassi."
Djerassi was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1923. He and his mother emigrated to the U.S. in 1939 amid World War II, following his parents’ divorce. Djerassi studied chemistry at Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio, and later earned his Ph.D. in chemistry from the University of Wisconsin in 1945.
While his work on contraception certainly reformed cultural practices and sexual norms all over the world, Djerassi did not create the commercial pill, often referred to simply as “the pill.” Djerassi was part of a team of chemists whose work spanned several decades and led to the creation of the synthetic molecule called norethindrone, which later became a main ingredient in oral contraceptives. Djerassi’s was one of three names that appeared on the patent, the New York Times said.
Still, Djerassi did not shy away from accepting the title of inventor of the pill. "Yes I am proud to be called the father of the pill," he told the Guardian in 2000. "Maybe it is true that Shakespeare's plays would never have been written if it wasn't for Shakespeare. But I'm certain that if we didn't do our work, then someone else would have come along shortly afterwards and done it."