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06/10/91

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Carl Djerassi wins nation's highest chemistry award

STANFORD --The American Chemical Society has named Carl Djerassi of Stanford University the winner of its 1992 Priestley Medal, in recognition of 50 years of fundamental research contributions and distinguished service to chemistry.

The Priestley Medal is considered the United States' highest honor in chemistry. It is named for Joseph Priestley, the British-born discoverer of oxygen who emigrated to America in 1794. The solid-gold medal will be presented to Djerassi in April at the society's national meeting in San Francisco.

Djerassi, 67, is most famous for synthesizing the first oral contraceptive -- "the pill." He is recognized among scientists as one of the world's foremost organic chemists, an expert in the chemistry of natural substances ranging from the antihistamines used in allergy medicines to the steroids of marine animals.

He has also been a crusader for better contraceptives, for science in developing countries and for the arts. His Djerassi Foundation has provided support to more than 500 artists, writers, choreographers and composers over the past decade.

Djerassi himself has published novels, poems and an autobiography, in addition to more than 1,100 articles and seven books on scientific subjects.

He has had a hand in developing some of the sophisticated tools scientists now use to measure chemical substances, as well as the computer artificial intelligence used to analyze them.

In addition to his academic research, Djerassi has played a major role in several industrial corporations, including Syntex Corp., where his group was the first to synthesize cortisone, as well as contraceptive hormones and other substances now used in medicines. In 1968, he helped found Zoecon Corp., one of the first companies to produce environmentally benign pesticides.

Born in Vienna, Austria, Djerassi received his bachelor's degree from Kenyon College, Ohio, in 1942 and his doctorate from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. He has been a professor of chemistry at Stanford since 1959, where he has also taught students in the human biology and women's studies programs.

Djerassi has been honored with many other awards, including the National Medal of Science in 1973, the Perkin Medal for applied chemistry in 1975, the first Wolf Prize in Chemistry in 1978, and the first National Academy of Sciences Award for the Industrial Application of Science in 1990.

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