He said that although most scientists enter the profession idealistically with the intention of improving the lot of mankind this almost inevitably becomes complicated with a zeal to succeed and become 'the first'- and be recognised as such by peers. Hence 'Noble science' becomes a lust for the Nobel (or some other such recognition). This sometimes unattractive but productive competition in scientists is rarely recognised and so he has made it one of the main motivations of the characters in his novels and now his plays.
After writing over 1200 scientific articles he turned to fiction - publishing a collection of short stories, poetry and five novels - and it was with a reading from CANTOR'S DILEMMA, his first novel, that he started the talk. The theme of the pressure on the scientist to be 'the first' was continued in a an excerpt from OXYGEN (see earlier posting). Professor Djerassi has now turned from science-in-fiction to science-in-theatre with a great deal of success. His plays have been performed widely and translated into many different languages. As I had only read the play OXYGEN before it was exciting to see a section of it being performed on film.
I would love to be able to see his latest play TABOOS which is currently being performed at the New End Theatre, Hampstead (Feb 23- April 2) - people around me who had seen it told me it was excellent - both in terms of the writing and the acting and the topic sounds intriguing. But unfortunately it is too far out of my way - one of the many penalties of living 200 miles away from London.
To console myself I bought NEWTON'S DARKNESS a play about the rivalry between Newton and Leibniz and the invention of calculus - being 'the first' was important even in the seventeenth century. Professor Djerassi's reading of an excerpt of this play concluded his talk.
In the questions that followed he remarked upon the difference between the number of papers produced by male and female scientists - females produce fewer but they are more often cited. He also said that women were at last obtaining senior positions in academic science - something I found particularly pleasing because I certainly experienced some discrimination as a female industrial research scientist in the eighties.
He also remarked that hardship is also an incentive to succeed .
So, a fascinating talk and I was very glad that Professor Djerassi was able to make it - he has recently broken his hip and had to present his talk, without a chairman, from his seat on the stage after climbing onto the platform with the aid of crutches. He then answered yet more questions while he signed some of his books in the foyer outside - truly a dedicated communicator and inspiring polymath.
The professor's comprehensive website (see link below) provides further information on all his artistic achievements.