“Oxygen”, a play about the discovery of this all-important element

Performance of “Oxygen” on 9th December / Press conference with the authors on 8th December

A groundbreaking discovery and a “retro” Nobel Prize: the Cluster of Excellence "Unifying Concepts in Catalysis” (UniCat) would like to invite you to a dramatic reading of the play "Oxygen” on 9th December 2011 at the TU Berlin. Roald Hoffmann, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry, and Carl Djerassi, co-inventor of the contraceptive pill, bring together fundamental questions in research in this story of the discovery of oxygen: what is a scientific discovery? Why is it so important to be first? Has there ever been a time when science was done purely for science's sake? This staged reading of the play will be performed as part of the International Year of Chemistry.

8.12. Press conference

Journalists are cordially invited to the press conference, which will be followed by a dress rehearsal. Photos will be permitted.

Thursday 8th December 2011, 11.30 am to 12.30 pm

Place:         TU Berlin, Hauptgebäude (Main Building),
                  Straße des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin, Audimax

The following contact people will be happy to answer any questions you may have:

  • Prof. Dr. Roald Hoffmann, Author, winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry
  • Prof. Dr. Carl Djerassi, Author, co-inventor of the Pill
  • Isabella Gregor, Director, Vienna
  • Prof. Dr. Matthias Drieß, Chair of the UniCat Cluster of Excellence

Please register by 7th December by e-mail: pressestelle(at)tu-berlin.de or by fax 030/314-23909:

9.12. Oxygen – a dramatic reading of the play about the discovery of oxygen by Roald Hoffmann and Carl Djerassi.

Please mention the event in your publication. The event is free and open to the public:

Date:                         Friday 9th December 2011, 5 pm

Place:                       TU Berlin, Hauptgebäude (Main Building), Audimax,                            Straße des 17. Juni 135, 10623 Berlin


The performance will be followed by a reception during which the audience will have the opportunity to discuss the work with the authors, the director and the actors. The event is intended for all members of the public aged 14 and over who are interested in the natural sciences or theatre.

UniCat and the TU Berlin present this staged reading in German of “Oxygen”, directed by Isabella Gregor, with financial support from BASF. Six professional actors from the Burgtheater Theatre, Vienna, will play the 11 characters, reading their parts on the stage. Costumes will consist of “accessories”, which means that actors will use extra items of clothing to indicate the person and the era.  

For more information on “Oxygen”, see:  www3.unicat.tu-berlin.de/oxygen

The plot. What is discovery? Why is it important to be first? These questions trouble the Characters in Oxygen. The action alternates between 1777 and 2001, the Centenary of the Nobel Prize, when the Nobel Foundation decides to inagurate a "retro-Nobel" Award for the prize in 1901. The Foundation thinks this will be easy. In the good old days, wasn't science done for science's sake? Wasn't discovery simple, pure and unalloyed by controversy, priority claims and hype?

The Nobel Committee decides to reward the discovery of oxygen, since that launched the Chemical Revolution. Lavoisier is a natural choice. But But what about scheele? What about Priestley? Didn't they discover oxygen? The play brings the candidates and their wifes to 1777 Stockholm at the invitation of King Gustav III. Through the scientists' wifes, in a sauna and elsewhere, we learn of their lives and those of their husbands. Meanwhile in 2001, the Nobel Committee argues about the conflicting claims of the three men.

The ethical issues around priority and discovery at the heart of this play are as timely today as they were in 1777. As are the ironies of revolutions. Lavoisier, the chemical revolutionary, is a political conservative, who give loses his life in the Jacobin terror. Priestley, the political radical, is a chemical conservative. And Scheele just wants to run his pharmacy. He, the first man on earth to make oxygen, got least credit for it. Will that situation be repaired 230 years after his discovery?


For further information please contact: Dr. Martin Penno, UniCat, TU Berlin, Tel: 030/314-28592, E-Mail: martin.penno(at)tu-berlin.de, and

Manuela Kummeter, BASF SE, Tel.: 0621/60-91211, E-Mail: manuela.kummeter(at)basf.com


To download press releases and press photos go to:



“EIN-Blick für Journalisten” – A service offered by TU Berlin for media representatives: research reports, expert services, idea pools, photo galleries: http://www.pressestelle.tu-berlin.de/?id=4608