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Celebrating Sweden's 150 years without war


The Pugwash Conferences
Carl Djerassi Scientist
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This autobiography is not written like a standard autobiography. It starts with a birth, my birth, and my parents’ birth, but it jumps back and forth just like I did, and that’s how I really wrote it. I decided to write memoirs on certain events, and then... sometimes amusing, sometimes tragic ones, and they were like pebbles, throwing them into water, and then these concentric expanding rings. I threw a second one, and these rings started overlapping, and then eventually became like islands in a sea, and then I just had to interconnect them. So, that’s really what I did, and if I’m looking here... I mean I obviously skipped a fair number of them, but one, which is a long and important chapter here... the Russian ones I’m skipping here... is the Pugwash one, and it’s simply called Pugwash. And it really describes my involvement with Pugwash, which started in the 1960s, '66, '67, and in fact started with... it was, sort of, how shall I say, almost an analogy to what the antihistamines did for my chemical enthusiasm. The proposal I made at the first Pugwash conference was the one about icipe, that’s where I published that particular paper. My talk was the creation of centres of excellence in places where there can’t be any centre... presumably there can’t be any centres of excellence, and how could you do that? That’s why I did this. And Pugwash, just to refresh your memory to an extent; you may not have known it was established in the late 1950s, based on a famous Einstein, Bertrand Russell manifesto, which really declared that the greatest danger to humanity is the atomic bomb, and nuclear bomb potential, the cold war, etc, and it would be worthwhile for scientists, who after all ought to be more sensible, and should be able to speak across borders and political limits, in neutral places, about that, and convinced Cyrus Eaton, who I mentioned earlier, to fund this. And he funded it in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, a very small island. And the first group, were just groups... there were Chinese, English, American, German, French, and Austrian I think, and an Italian. Maybe 20 or 30, all nuclear... all physicists, with the exception of Linus Pauling, who was a chemist, who interestingly enough, just a few years later won the peace Nobel Prize for his strong opposition to... or opposition to nuclear warfare. And one key person was a Polish refugee, an émigré refugee in England, a biophysicist named Joseph Rotblat, who then eventually became the executive secretary of it. He still is alive; he must be close to 100 years old now, or certainly in the late 90s, if he’s not already 100. And when Pugwash won the peace Nobel Prize in 19... I forgot, 1995 I think, around that time, it was divided. Half of it was given to the organisation, and half of it was given to Joe Rotblat himself as an individual. So he was one of the ones who was involved with this. And that was visualised as an area where scientists from countries that are potentially bitter enemies, could nevertheless speak, and that really worked.

Austrian-American Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) was best known for his work on the synthesis of the steroid cortisone and then of a progesterone derivative that was the basis of the first contraceptive pill. He wrote a number of books, plays and poems, in the process inventing a new genre, 'science-in-fiction', illustrated by the novel 'Cantor's Dilemma' which explores ethics in science.

Listeners: Tamara Tracz

Tamara Tracz is a writer and filmmaker based in London.

Tags: icipe, International Centre of Insect Physiology and Ecology, Nobel Peace Prize, Cyrus Eaton, Albert Einstein, Bertrand Arthur William Russell, Cyrus Stephen Eaton, Linus Carl Pauling, Joseph Rotblat

Duration: 3 minutes, 54 seconds

Date story recorded: September 2005

Date story went live: 24 January 2008