Oral history interview with Carl Djerassi

Oral history interview with Carl Djerassi

  • 1985-Jul-31
Photograph of Carl Djerassi
CHF Collections

In this interview Carl Djerassi begins with his early years in Vienna and Bulgaria, including his schooling at the American College in Sofia. This is followed by his immigration to the United States, with special emphasis on his college experiences at Newark Junior College, Tarkio College, and Kenyon College. The central portion of the interview considers Djerassi as a student at the University of Wisconsin, followed by research work at Ciba, a faculty position at Wayne State University, and steroid research at Syntex in Mexico City. The interview continues with a move to Stanford University, and expands on Djerassi's dual positions in business and academe, concluding with personal views on writing scientific and non-scientific literature, interest in the arts, and a number of ways in which chemistry has changed during his career.

Place of interview
Original file type PDF, MP3, JPEG
  • 64 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute

About the Interviewers

Jeffrey L. Sturchio is president and CEO of the Global Health Council. Previously he served as vice president of corporate responsibility at Merck & Co., president of the Merck Company Foundation, and chairman of the U.S. Corporate Council on Africa. Sturchio is currently a visiting scholar at the Institute for Applied Economics and the Study of Business Enterprise at Johns Hopkins University and a member of the Global Agenda Council on the Healthy Next Generation of the World Economic Forum. He received an AB in history from Princeton University and a PhD in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania.

Arnold Thackray founded the Chemical Heritage Foundation and served the organization as president for 25 years. He is currently CHF’s chancellor. Thackray received MA and PhD degrees in history of science from Cambridge University. He has held appointments at Cambridge, Oxford University, and Harvard University, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and the Hebrew University of Jerusalem.In 1983 Thackray received the Dexter Award from the American Chemical Society for outstanding contributions to the history of chemistry. He served for more than a quarter century on the faculty of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was the founding chairman of the Department of History and Sociology of Science and is currently the Joseph Priestley Professor Emeritus.

Physical location


Interviewee biographical information

  • October 29, 1923
  • Vienna, Austria
  • January 30, 2015
  • San Francisco, California, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1942 Kenyon College AB, summa cum laude Chemistry
1945 University of Wisconsin--Madison PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Ciba Pharmaceutical Company

  • 1942 to 1943 Junior Research Chemist
  • 1945 to 1949 Research Chemist

Syntex Corporation

  • 1949 to 1952 Associate Director of Chemical Research
  • 1957 to 1964 Vice President for Research
  • 1960 to 1972 Director
  • 1964 to 1968 Executive Vice President, Syntex Research
  • 1968 to 1978 President, Syntex Research

Wayne State University

  • 1952 to 1954 Associate Professor of Chemistry
  • 1954 to 1957 Professor of Chemisty

Stanford University

  • 1959 to 2002 Professor of Chemistry

Syva Associates

  • 1966 to 1978 Chairman, Board of Governors

Zoecon Corporation

  • 1968 to 1986 Chairman and Chief Executive Officer

Cetus Corporation

  • 1975 to 1986 Director

Catalytica, Inc.

  • 1983 to 1986 Director

Teknowledge, Inc.

  • 1983 to 1986 Director


Year(s) Award
1953 Honorary doctorate, National University of Mexico
1958 Award in Pure Chemistry, American Chemical Society
1958 Honorary doctorate, Kenyon College
1959 Leo Hendrik Baekeland Medal, American Chemical Society, North Jersey Section
1960 Fritzsche Award, American Chemical Society
1969 Intra-Science Research Foundation Award
1969 Honorary doctorate, Federal University of Rio de Janeiro
1971 Freedom Foundation Patent Award, American Institute of Chemists
1972 Honorary doctorate, Worcester Polytechnic Institute
1973 National Medal of Science
1973 Award for Creative Invention, American Chemical Society
1973 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1973 Madison Marshall Award, American Chemical Society, Alabama Section
1975 Perkin Medal, Society of Chemical Industry
1975 Honorary doctorate, Columbia University
1975 Chemistry Alumni Award for Scientific Achievement, City College of New York
1977 Honorary doctorate, University of Uppsala
1978 First recipient of the Wolf Prize in Chemistry
1978 National Inventors Hall of Fame, United States Patent Office
1978 Honorary doctorate, Coe College
1978 Honorary doctorate, University of Geneva
1982 Camille and Henry Dreyfus Distinguished Scholar, Duke University
1982 Gregory Pincus Memorial Lecture and Award, Worcester Foundation for Experimental Biology
1982 Sixth Annual Exploratorium Award, The Exploratorium Museum
1983 Award in the Chemistry of Contemporary Technological Problems, American Chemical Society
1983 John and Samuel Bard Award in Medicine and Science
1985 Honorary doctorate, University of Ghent
1985 Honorary doctorate, University of Manitoba
1988 Roussel Prize (Paris)
1988 Discoverer's Award, Pharmaceutical Manufacturers Association
1989 Gustavus John Esselen Award for Chemistry in the Public Interest
1990 First recipient of the Award for the Industrial Application of Science, U. S. National Academy of Sciences
1991 National Medal of Technology
1992 Priestley Medal, American Chemical Society
1992 Nevada Medal, US National Academy of Sciences
1993 Honorary doctorate, Adelphi University
1994 Thomson Gold Medal, International Mass Spectrometry Society
1995 Prince Mahidol Award in Medicine (Thailand)
1995 Honorary doctorate, University of South Carolina
1995 Honorary doctorate, University of Wisconsin
1995 Honorary doctorate, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH)
1996 Sovereign Fund Award
1997 Willard Gibbs Medal, American Chemical Society, Chicago Section
1997 Honorary doctorate, University of Maryland-Baltimore County
1998 William Proctor Prize for Scientific Achievement, Sigma Xi
1998 Honorary doctorate, Bulgarian Academy of Sciences
1999 Austrian Cross of Honor for Science and Art, First Class
2016 Othmer Gold Medal, Chemical Heritage Foundation
2016 Honorary Doctorate, University of Aberdeen
2016 Author's Prize, German Chemical Society
2016 Honorary doctorate, Polytechnic University (New York)
2016 Gold Medal, American Institute of Chemists

Cite as

Carl Djerassi, interviewed by Arnold Thackray and Sturchio, Jeffrey L. (Jeffrey Louis) in Stanford University on July 31, 1985. Philadelphia: Science History Institute, n.d. Oral History Transcript 0017. https://digital.sciencehistory.org/works/hm50ts561.

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The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

7 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads