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Oxygen: A Play in 2 Acts

ISBN: 978-3-527-30413-4
128 pages
March 2001
Oxygen: A Play in 2 Acts (3527304134) cover image
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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By the same Authors.

Foreword.

Production History.

Cast of Characters.

Scene 1.

Intermezzo 1.

Scene 2.

Intermezzo 2.

Scene 3.

Scene 4.

Intermezzo 3.

Scene 5.

Scene 6.

Scene 7.

Scene 8.

Scene 9.

Intermezzo 4.

Scene 10.

Intermezzo 5.

Scene 11.

Scene 12.

Acknowledgments.

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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 Edinburgh Fringe 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://www.djerassi.com)

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.


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Part of a feature story on Carl Djerassi: "It is 50 years since Carl Djerassi invented the contraceptive pill... and changed human behaviour for good. He has not stood still since... His latest work... a play called... "Oxygen"... examines the nature of achievement and accolades." (The Economist Technology Quarterly, June 23, 2001)

Part of the information regarding the ACS meeting on the editor's page: "If you are one of those lucky chemists going to San Diego, be sure to... see on of the performances of the world premiere of "Oxygen"... If you're not coming,... you might want to read the play, which is being published by Wiley-VCH." (Chemical and Engineering News, March 5, 2001)

"...the mere existence of the play is to be applauded, and the authors congratulated." (Education in Chemistry, November 2001)

"The play works very well." (The Lancet, 17 November 2001)

"Oxygen is an important stage in the move towards a more inclusive form of education and plays testimony to the power of theatre to open up the possibility of an interdisciplinary way of viewing the world." (Irish Times, 23 November 2001)

As the play's cover notes declare, 'the ethical issues around priority and discovery at the heart of this play are as timely today as they were in 1777'...Harold Varmus, Nobel Prize in Medicine, comments ‘With wit, scholarship, and stage craftsmanship, Oxygen shows us how much scientists have learned about the world and how little they have changed.'" (Advanced Materials & Processes, July 2001)

"The book of the play is stylishly produced.... If you have not seen the play, I thoroughly commend the book to you." (Interdisciplinary Science Review, Vol.27, No.1, 2002)

"...We give Oxygen, an enjoyable, engrossing, and above all provocative and thought-provoking play and enthusiastic two thumbs up."(The Chemical Educator, Vol.8, No.2, 2003)

"In their play "Oxygen," chemists Djerassi and Hoffmann successfully employ ingenious dramatic devices to explore the multiple facets of the process of scientific discovery and to tell the fascinating stories of the men who made the "chemicl revolution" and of their wives as well."

Murray Gell-Mann (Nobel laureate of Physics)

"A play that burns more brightly than its subject: the complexity of the most human theme in science. What is the nature of greatness? And whom do we honor: the one who made it first, who published it first, or who understood it first? Three eminent men and three indispensable women--with their modern counterparts forced to judge. But Djerassi and Hoffmann teach us that only we can judge this question without an answer, but filled with probing insights into the nature of our lives, our loves, and our accomplishments."

Stephen Jay (Evolutionary biologist, palaeontologist and best-selling author)

The authors, two of the world's best chemists, have teamed up to take advantage of an impending, real historical event, the centenary of the Nobel Prizes, to create a fascinating, imaginary encounter in 1777 between three of the best chemists in history---the contenders for the discovery of oxygen---as they are considered more than two hundred years later for the first "Retro-Nobel." With a winning mixture of wit, scholarship, and stage craftsmanship, Carl Djerassi
and Roald Hoffman show us how much scientists have learned about the world and how little they have changed, as the complex process of discovery is revealed as a genuinely human and social endeavor with timeless qualities.

Harold Varmus (Nobel laureate of Medicine)

This play is about scientists and science history, but also about the much broader question of the nature of discovery: is it finding a tree or seeing the forest?

Jean-Marie Lehn (Nobel laureate of Chemistry)

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