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Carl Djerassi receives honorary doctorate

(Vienna 12th December 2012) Wolfgang Schütz, Rector of the Medical University of Vienna, today conferred the honorary doctorate on the 89-year-old inventor of the “Pill”, Carl Djerassi.

Carl Djerassi is one of the most influential figures in the history of 20th century medicine. Born in Vienna in 1923, he emigrated to the USA in 1938. As a chemist, he first described a new way of synthesising cortisone and at the age of 28 he drafted the synthesis of norethisterone. This was to be a discovery that changed the world, since it paved the way for a completely new form of contraception. Djerassi is therefore regarded as the inventor of the “Pill”.

In their speeches, MedUni Vienna Rector Wolfgang Schutz, Senate Chairman Arnold Pollak and laudator Carl Aigner, Director of the State Museum of Lower Austria, all praised Djerassi, whose 89th birthday was that same day, not only as an outstanding scientist, but also as a key, multi-talented figure of the 20th century, as a major sponsor and collector of art and as a successful author.

Says Wolfgang Schütz: “With this honour of Carl Djerassi, the Medical University of Vienna is expressing its thanks for the collaboration with its doctors, scientists and the expertise from which they have benefited.”

Says Arnold Pollak: “Beyond all of these merits and achievements by Carl Djerassi, the Medical University's conferring of this honour sends out a major message: namely that, in Carl Djerassi, it is honouring one of the people that represent the often-cited ‘expulsion of reason’ from this country’s schools and universities. One of the people who had to flee the country, to flee the persecution and annihilation of the National Socialists, and who achieved great things in the emigration – and one of the people to whom this country has often long been too slow in offering its hand.”

Carl Aigner described Carl Djerassi in his speech as being “one of the renaissance people born from the culture of modern Vienna, whose life was and is shaped by art and science.” As the Director of the then new Krems Art Gallery, Aigner contacted Djerassi in 1999 to borrow works for a Paul Klee exhibition. In the meantime, the cosmopolitan Djerassi has gained Austrian citizenship, once again made Vienna his home and entrusted a large proportion of his Klee collection – the biggest in the world – to the Albertina in Vienna.