TIME Chemistry

The Chemist Who Helped Develop the Pill Has Died

Carl Djerassi
Boris Roessler—AP Scientist and patron of the arts Carl Djerassi sits during an interview with the DPA German Press Agency at the university in Frankfurt Main, Germany, 29 October 2013.

His scientific work led to the world's first oral contraceptive in 1952

Carl Djerassi, a 91-year-old Stanford chemist who helped to develop the birth control pill, passed away from cancer Friday in San Francisco.

Djerassi’s scientific work led to the world’s first oral contraceptive in 1952, which gave women the option to control pregnancies. He developed a synthetic molecule called norethindrone, the effects of which simulated, in stronger form, those of progesterone. For his work, he earned an induction into the National Inventors Hall of Fame and received the presidential National Medal of Science, which only a few hundred scientists have received since its creation.

“Carl was interested particularly in individual freedom and self-determination, and believed that all of us, women included, should have that opportunity,” said Dr. Philip Darney, the director of UCSF’s Bixby Center for Global Reproductive Health. “He saw birth control and access to abortion as agents of that opportunity.”

Djerassi, a polymath, penned three biographies The Pill, Pygmy Chimps and Degas’ Horse, In Retrospect: From the Pill to the Pen and This Man’s Pill, and founded a free art residency program called the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, funded by earnings from the birth control pill.

[SF Gate]

TIME Physics

Watch Droplets Bounce Off Amazing New Water-Repellent Metal

The laser-etched material is more effective than traditional hydrophobic chemical coatings.

Scientists have used lasers to create a water-repelling metal surface that acts like a trampoline for water droplets.

Researchers at the University of Rochester, who published an article in the Journal of Applied Physics this week, used lasers to etch micro- and nanoscale structures into a metal surface that make it almost completely water-repellent, or hydrophobic.

The material could have a transformative impact on everything from aviation to sanitation, Chunlei Guo, a professor of optics and co-author of the study said in a press release and accompanying explanatory video. Airplane surfaces, for example, could use the material to repel water and prevent surface freezing.

The metal surface is more effective than traditional chemical-based surfaces like Teflon and, because it’s a structural alteration, doesn’t wear off.

“The material is so strongly water-repellent, the water actually gets bounced off,” Guo said in a statement. “Then it lands on the surface again, gets bounced off again, and then it will just roll off from the surface.”

 

TIME Innovation

Five Best Ideas of the Day: November 20

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

1. Hacking out of prison: San Quentin inmates are learning to code.

By Charley Locke in EdSurge

2. Your breath could reveal a fake: How a beetle’s camouflage trick might make money harder to counterfeit.

By James Urquhart in Chemistry World

3. Russia has learned there’s a great deal it can get away with in Ukraine.

By Amy Knight in the New York Review of Books

4. Protected areas like wetlands and coral reefs are at highest risk from climate change but can also be part of the solution.

By Adam Markham at the Union of Concerned Scientists

5. A U.S. deal with Iran could reset the Mideast balance of power.

By Patrick Smith in the Fiscal Times

The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, D.C.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

TIME Biology

See 40 Mind-Blowing Images Captured Through a Microscope

In stunning detail not visible to the human eye, the winning entrants in Nikon's Small World photography competition will give you a fresh view of the world

TIME discoveries

How Garbage Kickstarted the Modern Chemical Industry

Accident leads to breakthrough

Throughout the history of science, some of the most important breakthroughs have come about through happy accidents. This certainly bears true in the video above, courtesy of the American Chemical Society, which explains how garbage kicked off the entire chemical industry.

TIME Food & Drink

Why Does Pizza Taste So Delicious? Allow Science to Explain

A look at the chemical reactions that lead to that magical, magical taste

A few months back, an intrepid team of scientists declared that mozzarella is the best cheese for pizza because it melts, bubbles and browns better than any other varieties. Now, some other scientists from the American Chemical Society have taken an even closer look at the chemistry of everybody’s favorite cheesy food with this new video, part of the organization’s Reactions series.

“Whether it’s a plain cheese, a deep-dish stacked with meats or a thin-crust veggie delight, there’s just something about pizza that makes it delicious,” the video description explains. “There’s a lot of chemistry that goes into everything from dough to sauce to toppings to, of course, cheese.”

In particular, as the video explains, there’s something called the Maillard Reaction at work — and that’s what we all have to thank for the magical taste we encounter in every bite.

TIME Science

These Amazing Chemical Reactions Will Show You the True Beauty of Science

This incredible video depicts the mystical wonders of chemistry

lost-at-e-minor_logo

This article originally appeared on Lost at E Minor.

Even if chemistry isn’t your thing, and even if you fell asleep in almost every chemistry class, you’re sure to appreciate just how incredible science really is by watching this Beautiful Chemistry video. The video is a new collaboration between Tsinghua University Press and University of Science and Technology of China that make chemistry more interesting (and awesome) for the general public.

The first project of the collaboration used a 4K UltraHD camera to capture chemical reactions without the distraction of beakers and test tubes. So what you’re seeing is a chemical reaction in its finest form. And how fine it is!

(via Colossal)

TIME Chemistry

Octopus Skin Has Inspired a New Type of Camouflage Sheet

It can only switch from black to transparent and back again, but that's a start

Scientists have developed a color-changing device inspired by octopuses and their natural camouflaging techniques.

The research, carried out at the University of Houston and University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, looked at how the skins of octopuses, squid and cuttlefish can change color so rapidly. From there, researchers were able to design a heat-sensitive sheet that quickly changes color when detecting light.

At room temperature the flexible sheet is black. Once the device’s top layer, which contains a heat-sensitive dye, detects light it becomes transparent. True, this is hardly a rainbow of hues, but scientists believe it is the first step to developing a camouflage material for human use.

“[The device] is by no means a deployable camouflage system but it’s a pretty good starting point,” said a lead researcher, John Rogers of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, to National Geographic.

Popular Mechanics broke down the layers of the new device as follows:

The top layer of the new device is loaded with a temperature-sensitive dye that appears black at low temperatures and clear at temps above 116 degrees F. This dye-filled layer sits on top of a layer of white reflective silver tiles, an ultra-thin layer of silicon circuits that control the dye’s temperature, and a transparent silicone rubber foundation. All together, this stack measures less than 200 microns thick. (The average human hair is 100 microns wide.)

Underneath this flexible sandwich is a base layer containing an array of light-sensing photodetectors. The corners of each dye-filled pixel and silver tile above this photoreceptor layer are notched, creating gaps that are like holes in a mask, allowing light to get through to the photoreceptors so they know how and when to change color. This adaptive camouflage system can respond to changing patterns of illumination within just one to two seconds.

[National Geographic]

TIME remembrance

Doctor Who Contributed To Early Research on Smoking Has Died

LUTHER TERRY
ASSOCIATED PRESS—ASSOCIATED PRESS U.S. Surgeon General Luther Terry, at rostrum, answers questions on a landmark report on the dangers of smoking during a Jan. 11, 1964 news conference in Washington. Members of his advisory committee sit behind him, with Dr. Emmanuel Farber sixth from left, with arms folded

Dr. Emmanuel Farber's research contributed to a paradigm shift in American attitudes to tobacco

Emmanuel Farber, the Canadian-American doctor whose medical research contributed to groundbreaking discoveries in the study of cancer-causing chemicals, died on Sunday. He was 95.

“He represents a guiding example of a life devoted to serving his fellow man and scientific colleagues with unmatched qualities of integrity, humbleness, deep reasoning, and an exquisite no-nonsense … approach to science,” the Society of Toxicologic Pathology wrote in 1985, when inducting him as an honorary member.

Farber was born in 1918 in Toronto, where he would first study medicine. After graduating from the University of Toronto with an M.D. in 1942 and serving in the Royal Canadian Medical Corps during World War II, he earned a Ph.D. in biochemistry from the University of California, Berkeley.

His career was long and his legacy is vast, but perhaps his most prevailing accomplishment came at the nexus of medicine and public policy, when, in the early 1960s, he sat on the Surgeon General’s Advisory Committee on Smoking and Health, which produced some of the earliest conclusive evidence that cigarettes could cause cancer. The committee’s report, according to Harvard Medical School, caused a paradigm shift in American culture, which until then largely dismissed concerns surrounding smoking’s health risks.

Over the course of his career, Farber held positions on the faculties of Tulane University, the University of Pittsburgh, and his alma mater in Toronto; he also served as president of both the American Association for Cancer Research and the American Society of Experimental Pathology. He received numerous awards for his scientific research.

He spent the last years of his life in Columbia, S.C., where he would meet his second wife, Henrietta Keller Farber. She died in 2011. He is also preceded in death by his first wife, Ruth Farber, and two siblings, Lionel Farber and Sophie Goldblatt. He leaves behind a daughter, a son-in-law, and one grandson.

TIME Malaysia Airlines Flight 17

Lives Lost: Remembering Karlijn Keijzer, Indiana University Rower and Chemist

Ukraine Plane Indiana Victim
Indiana University/AP An undated photo of Karlijn Keijzer provided by Indiana University on July 18, 2014.

After helping transform the Hoosiers rowing program in the 2011 season, she turned to her PhD career as a scientist intent on fighting cancer and other diseases.

“I’m not an overly emotional person,” says Steve Peterson, the head women’s rowing coach at Indiana University.

But late Friday afternoon, while talking about Karlijn Keijzer (pronounced Kar-line Kite-ser)–a former Indiana University rower who was killed on Malaysia Airlines Fight 17 on Thursday–Peterson reached his breaking point. She was 25. “One of my favorite memories that keeps popping into my head, and it makes me so sad to say this,” Peterson says, unable to continue his words. Between several pauses to let the tears pass, he explains why he can no longer hide his grief. It was such a small thing, really, but it meant so much.

After every season, Peterson conducts exit interviews with his athletes. Keijzer was from the Netherlands, and under NCAA rules was eligible to row only one year while she pursued her graduate studies in chemistry. Keijzer was a key recruit for Peterson, who was looking to draw more international athletes, with more experience, to help keep Indiana competitive in the Big Ten. Keijzer was a terrific fit. She had competed in prestigious events, like the European Rowing Junior Championships and the World Rowing Junior Championships. She had Olympic aspirations.

During that 2011 season, she helped transform the Indiana program, leading the Hoosiers to a 14-5 record. She rowed with the Varsity 8 – “the big cheese,” says Peterson – and sat in the “stroke” position. In rowing, the stroke sits closest to the coxswain, and is not unlike the boat’s quarterback. “The stroke sets the rhythm, the pace,” says Peterson. “The best rower sits in the stroke seat.” Peterson calls Keijzer one of the best rowers he’s ever coached, and he’s been at it for 30 years.

But during that exit interview that Peterson can’t bear to describe, Keijzer didn’t want to talk about her own performance. “She was just encouraging me, telling me, “Your on the right path, keep doing what you’re doing,” says Peterson. Smitten with Bloomington, Keijzer wound up staying on the IU campus, ditching a potential rowing career for the school’s PhD program in chemistry. So this season, she saw Peterson’s team make it all the way to the NCAA championships for the first time in school history. Peterson traces this success directly back to Keijzer’s boat, which made IU nationally relevant and helped bolster recruiting. “After we finally made it, she says ‘I told you you can do it,’” says Peterson. “She was just so ridiculously supportive.”

The Malaysia Flight 17 tragedy has already cost so much. In Keijzer, a senseless act cost of group of rowers a beloved teammate, her fellow chemistry students a popular colleague, and the world a scientist intent on fighting cancer and other diseases.

David Giedroc, professor and chair of Indiana’s chemistry department, remembers Keijzer walking into his office as soon as she got on campus. She asked if he would advise him. “Here was this confident young lady, passionate about science and sports,” says Giedroc. “High level science and high level NCAA sports – that’s a fairly exotic combination for a graduate student.” During her first year at IU, when she was both rowing and studying, Keijzer would sometimes fall asleep in her lab chair. Still, she somehow managed to make the 6:00 am practices.

“We’d be in the locker room at 5:30, it would be windy, rainy,” says Jaclyn Riedel, one of Keijzer’s teammates. “But she was kind of leading the charge, cheering everyone on. She was just infectious.”The Amsterdam girl took to Indiana, calling herself a “Dutch Hoosier.” To fit in, she came to one party dressed as an ear of corn. “She wore black spandex, a long yellow shirt with frayed edges, and her hair was green,” says Riedel. Her teammates would ask her for informal Dutch lessons, and when they found out the word for garden gnome – kabouter – a select few, including Keijzer and Riedel, started calling themselves “the kabouters.” They headed to Home Depot to pick up a few statuettes. The gnomes became good luck charms. Riedel would carry one in her backpack, “though it never went into the boat,” she says.

After wrapping up her rowing career, Keijzer kept pursuing her doctorate. “As a computational chemist, she had enormous potential,” says Giedroc. This summer, Keijzer was working in the Netherlands, collaborating with researchers at VU University Amsterdam on simulations of anti-tumor drugs. At IU, she was working on developing a computer program that calculates how anti-cancer molecules interacted with partner proteins that might play a role in cancer or Alzheimer’s disease.

“She was so passionate pharmacological chemistry, and helping people that way,” says Meghan McCormick, Keijzer’s lab mate for four years. “Cancer was just one obstacle she was tackling. She also took on a project seeking better HPV vaccines.” Keijzer and McCormick were co-authors on a study just published in the Journal of the American Chemistry Society, titled: “Understanding Intrinsically Irreversible, Non-Nernstian, Two-Electron Redox Processes: A Combined Experimental and Computational Study of the Electrochemical Activation of Platinum(IV) Antitumor Prodrugs.” McCormick offers the lay explanation: “Many second and third generation cancer drugs aren’t working as well as they could be. We think we can make better ones, based on the methodology and tools that we used.” “She was just a strong woman,” says McCormick. “As a woman in science, a woman in chemistry, she was a big inspiration. We always felt like we had to prove ourselves a little bit more, to fight through the biases. We fed off each other’s strengths.” McCormick starts tearing up. “It’s certainly going to take a very long time to walk into that lab, and not see her sitting next to me,” says McCormick. “I’m so used to seeing her smiling at me, drinking coffee, giving me encouragement.”

Keijzer was on the Malaysia Airways flight with her boyfriend, bound for a summer vacation in Indonesia before she returned to Indiana. Kuala Lumpur was a layover. When Peterson, her old coach, got word from a former rower on Thursday that Keijzer was most likely on the plane, he was in a car with his family, on his way to visiting a friend in northern Ohio. He didn’t want to believe it. When he saw the confirmation on Keijzer’s Facebook page, the devastation set in.

“She was such an optimist,” says Peterson. “Not just for herself, but for her team, and for everybody around her. She was always there, smiling, a best friend. That’s now all cut way too short. That’s what really makes me sad.”

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