Photo of Carl Djerassi

Carl Djerassi

  • National Medal of Technology and Innovation
  • Physical Sciences

In recognition of his major contributions to the elucidation of the complex chemistry of the steroid hormones and to the application of these compounds to medicinal chemistry and population control by means of oral contraceptives.

Born in Vienna in 1923, Carl Djerassi emigrated to the U.S. when he was 16 and received his Ph.D. in chemistry by his 22nd birthday. Five years later, as an employee of the Mexico City-based Syntex Corporation, Djerassi led the research team that synthesized the first contraceptive pill, revolutionizing family planning worldwide.

Djerassi transformed the way chemists did their work with contributions to the use of highly sensitive analytical tools, such as mass spectronomy, that are critical to establishing the structure of complex molecules. He used these fine tuned methods to develop new steroids for pharmaceutical treatments.

In 1968, Djerassi founded his own company, Zoecon, to develop new approaches to pest control based on his research on oral contraceptives. Djerassi’s team discovered that insects produce a hormone in their early developmental stage that allows them to remain as larvae. By synthesizing the hormone and preventing larvae developing into adult insects, Djerassi produced nontoxic and environmentally friendly insecticides.

By Jen Santisi