SAN FRANCISCO—It’s not uncommon for one scientist to build on the work of another. But it’s rare for that research to spawn an organization dedicated to saving the lives of its subjects.

For Molly Gleiser, a chemist at the University of California-Berke- ley, the idea for Suicide Prevention Among Scientists began with an 1984 article in Chemical and Engineering News that described a study of the causes of death among female chemists. One figure jumped out at her: the suicide rate for women chemists was five times the norm for American women.

Geiser has brought together a small group of chemists and behavioral scientists to investigate the factors that cause scientists to take their own lives. The organization’s first effort is a project to collect and analyze the case histories of chemists who have committed suicide (the rate for men, although not as high as for women, is still twice...

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