Father of the pill to debut pedagogic wordplay

March 25, 2003

Would a venture capitalist be interested in a simple chemical that is vital to hundreds of biochemical processes from penile erection to the flashing of fireflies?

The chemical is nitric oxide, NO, which is also the name of a pedagogic wordplay by Carl Djerassi, father of the birth control pill, and Pierre Laszlo, French chemist and science writer. The American premiere reading of “NO” will be 11-11:50 a.m., Friday, March 28, in 1351 Chemistry Building.

NO is a toxic and unstable substance that exists in the body for only a few seconds before being chemically altered. That is why it wasn’t even detected in humans until the 1980s. Yet the play reveals through the entertaining conversation of two scientists and a venture capitalist that NO is vital in such things as blood-pressure regulation, the way Viagra functions and the development of septic shock associated with infection.

The reading will feature Djerassi; Laura Kiessling, MacArthur Foundation grant recipient, and professor of chemistry and biochemistry; and Bassam Z. Shakhashiri, professor of chemistry.

Djerassi will be in Madison for the reading and for the staging by University Theatre of another of his plays, “Oxygen,” co-authored with Nobel Laureate Roald Hoffmann.