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Oxygen [Paperback]

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Item description for Oxygen by Carl Djerassi & Roald Hoffmann...

What motivates a scientist? One key factor is the pressure from the competition to be the first to discover something new. The moral consequences of this are the subject of the play "Oxygen", dealing with the discovery of this all-important element. The focus of the play is on chemical and political revolutions, as well as the Nobel Prize, which will be awarded for the 100th time in 2001. The action takes place in 1777 and 2001; and the play is written for 3 actors and 3 actresses who play a total of 11 characters. The world premiere will take place in early 2001 in San Diego, and the German premiere in September.
The world-famous authors Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann are a guarantee of excellence and suspense, both in their role as scientists -- Carl Djerassi is known as the "Father of the Pill" while Roald Hoffmann received the Nobel Prize for chemistry in 1982 - as well as in their role as authors -- Djerassi has written several successful novels, while Hoffmann is renowned for his poetry.

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Item Specifications...

Pages   119
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 0.5" Width: 5.25" Height: 8.25"
Weight:   0.4 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Feb 22, 2001
Publisher   Wiley-VCH
ISBN  3527304134  
ISBN13  9783527304134  

Availability  0 units.

More About Carl Djerassi & Roald Hoffmann

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Carl Djerassi:
Carl Djerassi, born in Vienna but educated in the US, is a writer and professor of chemistry at Stanford University. Author of over 1200 scientific publications and seven monographs, he is one of the few American scientists to have been awarded both the National Medal of Science (in 1973, for the first synthesis of a steroid oral contraceptive--"the Pill") and the National Medal of Technology (in 1991, for promoting new approaches to insect control). A member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as many foreign academies, Djerassi has received 18 honorary doctorates together with numerous other honors, such as the first Wolf Prize in Chemistry, the first Award for the Industrial Application of Science from the National Academy of Sciences, and the American Chemical Society's highest award, the Priestley Medal.
For the past decade, he has turned to fiction writing, mostly in the genre of "science-in-fiction," whereby he illustrates, in the guise of realistic fiction, the human side of scientists and the personal conflicts faced by scientists in their quest for scientific knowledge, personal recognition, and financial rewards. In addition to novels (Cantor's Dilemma; The Bourbaki Gambit; Marx, deceased; Menachem's Seed; NO), short stories (The Futurist and Other Stories), and autobiography (The Pill, Pygmy Chimps, and Degas' Horse), he has recently embarked on a trilogy of plays which he describes in his web site as "science-in-theatre"-with an emphasis on contemporary cutting-edge research in the biomedical sciences. "AN IMMACULATE MISCONCEPTION," first performed in abbreviated form at the 1998 EdinburghFringe Festival and subsequently (1999) as a full, 2-act play in London (New End Theatre),
San Francisco (Eureka Theatre) and Vienna (under the title UNBEFLECKT at the Jugendstiltheater), focuses on the ethical issues inherent in recent spectacular advances in the treatment of male infertility through single sperm injection (the ICSI technique). A radio adaptation was broadcast over the BBC World Service as "Play of the Week." He is also the founder of the Djerassi Resident Artists Program near Woodside, California, which provides residencies and studio space for artists in the visual arts, literature, choreography and performing arts, and music. Over 1000 artists have passed through that program since its inception in 1982.
(There is a Web site about Carl Djerassi's writing at http: //
Roald Hoffmann:
Roald Hoffmann, born in Zloczow, Poland but educated in the US, is the Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters at Cornell University. One of America's most distinguished chemists, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry. A member of the US National Academy of Sciences and the American Academy of Arts and Sciences as well as many foreign academies, Hoffmann has received 26 honorary doctorates together with numerous other honors such as the National Medal of Science. Hoffmann is the only person ever to receive the American Chemical Society's top awards in three sub- disciplines: organic chemistry, inorganic chemistry, and chemical education.
For the past dozen years, Hoffmann has simultaneously pursued a literary career. He is the author of three books of poetry, "The Metamict State" (1987), "Gaps and Verges" (1990), and "Memory Effects"(1999). His three non-fiction books deal with the overall theme of the creative and humanistic sparks of chemistry: An art/science/literature collaboration with artist Vivian Torrence, "Chemistry Imagined" (1993); "The Same and Not the Same" (1995); and "Old Wine, New Flasks: Reflections on Science and Jewish Tradition," in collaboration with Shira Leibowitz Schmidt. Hoffmann is also is the presenter of a television course, "The World of Chemistry," which has aired on many PBS Stations and abroad.

Carl Djerassi currently resides in the state of California. Carl Djerassi has an academic affiliation as follows - Dept. of Chem., Stanford University, Stanford CA 94305, USA Stanford.

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Reviews - What do customers think about Oxygen?

A Breath of Fresh Air  May 4, 2001
Science is exploration, both systematic and creative, and as such, it is an activity innate to humans.

"Oxygen" offers an insider's glimpse into two facets of science often shrouded in mystery, but filled with expressions of human splendor--and folly: the struggle for recognition of ones scientific discoveries and the awarding of a Nobel Prize for discoveries deemed singularly important.

The playwrights, Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann, have each contributed their own singular scientific discoveries and literary creations to the world. They use the occasion of the centenary of the Nobel Prizes to mirror fictional experiences involving the historical chemists Lavoisier, Priestley, and Scheele--and the women in their lives--with the arguments and self-reflections of a committee of modern-day Swedish scientists trying to award a retro-Nobel for the most important discovery in chemistry before 1901.

Both sets of characters, those of the 18th Century who discovered oxygen and those of the 21st who seek to honor that discovery, act out the passions that drive the men and women who pursue science--and do so in ways at home in either century. The play reveals to the reader, whether a student of science (of any age) or not, the issues and emotions that underlie a scientist's compulsion to question, and hopefully to understand, the workings of the natural world, all the while striving for primacy in discovery. The book offers a voyage of discovery worth taking.

2001- A Chemical Odyssey  Apr 29, 2001
The year is 1777- the American Revolution and the chemical revolution are both burning brightly. In a Stockholm sauna, Mary Priestley and Marie Anne Pierrette Paulze Lavoisier, the wives of Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier, and Sara Margaretha Pohl, the companion of Carl Wilhelm Scheele, open this imaginative play and set the stage for the scientific, emotional and ethical struggles that follow. It is a tempestuous period: the wealthy Lavoisier was guillotined during the Reign of Terror in 1794. Joseph Priestley, a founder of the Unitarian Church and also a friend of Franklin, was forced to flee England for America, as a mob burned his church to the ground.

The authors of this play comfortably inhabit both of C.P. Snow's "Two Cultures". Roald Hoffmann is a winner of the 1981 Nobel Prize in Chemistry and Carl Djerassi performed the first synthesis of a steroid oral contraceptive. Prior to "Oxygen", Hoffmann had published widely acclaimed poetry and other "cross cultural books" for scientists and non-scientists while Djerassi had published successful novels as well as a play and a book of poems.

Nobel Prizes are awarded to living practioners and the practice has been, where sharing is appropriate- usually in the sciences- no more than three co-awardees. But in 2001, the hundredth anniversary of the Nobel Prize, Astrid Rosenquist, the first female chair of a chemistry Nobel committee springs two surprises on her three male committee members. The first is that the Swedish Academy of Sciences will begin a new Retro-Nobel Prize for early discoveries. The second is the participation of a mysterious and alluring recorder or "amanuensis" named Ulla Zorn.

The play alternates scenes between the Court of King Carl Gustav the Third and the Stockholm of 2001. The discussion of candidates by the modern committee rapidly converges to the discovery of oxygen and the understanding of fire that transformed chemistry into a modern science. The problem is this-we now know that Scheele first discovered oxygen around 1771-2; Priestley discovered it totally independently in 1774, disclosed his discovery to Lavoisier during a visit to Paris in that year and published first. History proves that Scheele also disclosed his discovery in a letter addressed to Lavoisier two weeks before Priestley's visit. Lavoisier never responded to Scheele's letter. But Priestley and Scheele did not understand the significance of their discovery. They believed that the new "fire air" sucked an essence of fire (phlogiston) from burning matter. It was Lavoisier who understood that burning, rusting and respiration all involved addition of oxygen (oxidation) rather than loss of something to the air. One committee member, Bengt Hjalmarsson, is reasonably fluent in French and is assigned Lavoisier. Scheele is assigned to Sune Kallstenius, comfortable in the German language frequently employed by Scheele. Ulf Svanholm is assigned Priestley. Not surprisingly they each become advocates for their "charges". But other human frailties emerge. Bengt and Astrid have a history. Ulf harbors a grudge against Sune, who he is convinced, caused him to be "scooped" on his major discovery. The stage has been set to play off the issues of scientific priority, ambition and motivation, complicated by human passions, among powerful women and men of the eighteenth and twenty-first centuries. Indeed, it is the women who, according to Ms Zorn, are "...usually expected to clean up the dirt" and so they do by clarifying history and moving the modern committee to an acceptable concensus.

The issue of priority for the discovery of oxygen is to be settled in The Judgement of Stockholm. Did Lavoisier, Scheele and Priestley ever meet together? Probably not- but what an exciting thought. And in the best tradition of modern science, the critical experiments of one must be performed by another. There are thrilling scenes here: Lavoisier performing Scheele's generation of "fire-air" under the latter's supervision; Antoine confiding his intuition about Scheele to Marie ("I trust him"); Joseph to Mary about Scheele ("I trust him"); Carl Wilhelm to Fru Pohl on Lavoisier ("I do not trust him"). And there is an extra bonus. There is evidence that to celebrate their chemical revolution, Antoine and Marie performed a brief play or masque. Alas, the script, if one ever existed in writing, is unknown. But Djerassi and Hoffmann offer us a delight- Marie, as "oxygen" publicly humiliates and vanquishes Antoine, as "phlogiston", in a performance witnessed, with amusement, by King Carl Gustav and with increasing discomfort and then consternation by the Priestleys, Scheele and Fru Pohl.

The twists, surprises and the denouement will be left for the discovery of the reader. The authors have succeeded wonderfully in combining solid history, with the informed nuances and rich humor of two of the world's most accomplished scientists. Hoffmann and Djerassi do not recognize the boundaries of the "Two Cultures" and readers of this play will be the richer as a result. One last thought- the number of actors in this play is quite small and the settings simple. A reading of the play can be readily staged by high school or college chemistry classes. What a way to enliven chemical history and bridge the sciences, humanities and fine arts!


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