Carl Djerassi (1923-2015) did not like being reduced to one label. He is best known for synthesizing a hormone that became the main ingredient in the contraceptive known as “the pill.” In fact, he was just one of several scientists who worked on creating the chemical roots of the pill. But Djerassi, a self-proclaimed intellectual polygamist, was much more than that.

While it’s true he developed synthetic juvenile hormone in insects to prevent them from becoming adults (a non-toxic way to control mosquitoes and fleas) and created corticosteroids to fight inflammation, his work goes far beyond the lab bench. We get a glimpse of that even early on at Stanford where he taught for decades as a chemistry professor. One of the courses: biosocial aspects of birth control.

Chemists, according to the Economist’s obituary, struck Djerassi as even more tribal, hidebound, and inward-looking than other scientists. Beginning in his 70s, Djerassi wrote novels and plays that featured scientists debating the ethical and social implications of their lab work. He referred to the genre as “science-in-fiction” and “science-in-theatre.” It was a way to discuss the cultural, social, and ethical fallout from the hormone he had created.

For a time, he ran two research companies. Shares in one made him rich. After an artist daughter committed suicide, he created an artists colony in the Santa Cruz mountains.