A Stamp for DjerassiGAMBIER, Ohio (June 28, 2005) Carl Djerassi, Class of 1943, the eminent chemist who is best known for synthesizing the first oral contraceptive, has received an enormous number of honors and awards over the years. One recent tribute, however, carries particularly resonant personal significance. The post office of Austria, a country which Djerassi and his parents fled in the wake of the Nazi takeover in 1938, has issued a postage stamp saluting his accomplishments.
"Chemiker/Romancier," reads the text at the top of the one-euro stamp, recognizing not only Djerassi's scientific achievements but also his second career as the author of novels, plays, and memoirs. Beneath that rubric, three lines mark key dates in Djerassi's relationship with his native country: 1923, born; 1938, expelled; 2003, reconciled. It was in 2003, on the occasion of the chemist's eightieth birthday, that Austria offered him honorary citizenship-and that the post office first contacted him.
The stamp, which was issued in March, particularly pleases Djerassi because its design incorporates not one but two depictions of steroids, chemicals associated with a good deal of Djerassi's work. One diagram anchors the upper right-hand corner of the stamp. In addition, besides the foreground portrait of the chemist with a scene from his boyhood city of Vienna, there is a striking background portrait composed entirely of microscopic steroid structures-in effect, synthesizing Djerassi's face with the chemicals that he spent much of his career synthesizing.
After graduating from Kenyon in 1943, Djerassi earned a Ph.D. at the University of Wisconsin. He synthesized the first steroid contraceptive in 1951 while working as a research chemist for Syntex, S.A., in Mexico City. Since 1959, he has been on the faculty of Stanford University.