Leo H. Sternbach
The information listed below is current as of the date the transcript was finalized.
Abstract of Interview
Leo H. Sternbach begins the interview with a discussion of his family and childhood in Austria and Poland. He describes his early education during the First World War as well as his experiences working in his father's pharmacy. After receiving his degree in pharmacy from Jagiellonian University in Cracow, he enrolled in a PhD program in organic chemistry. As a result of intensifying anti-Semitism, he left Poland and went to Vienna, where he worked with Pauli and Fränkel, and then to Zürich to work with Ruzicka at the Swiss Federal Institute. After beginning work with Hoffmann-La Roche in Basel and marrying Herta Kreuzer, increasing pressure to leave Switzerland compelled him to emigrate to the United States, where he continued work with the company in Nutley, New Jersey, and began a search for new tranquilizers. Sternbach recalls that he was instructed to terminate his study of benzodiazepines but continued the research unofficially, which led to his significant discoveries of Librium, Valium, and other related drugs. He concludes his interview with a brief summary of his accomplishments and his views on the present state of pharmaceutical research.
|1931||Jagiellonian University||PhD||Organic Chemistry|
Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (Eidgenössiche Technische Hochschule)
F. Hoffman-La Roche AG
Honorary Doctor of Technical Sciences, Technical University, Vienna, Austria
Outstanding Naturalized Citizen Award, Newark Chapter, Unico National
Medicinal Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society, Division of Medicinal Chemistry
Cecil Brown Lectureship, American Chemical Society, North Jersey Section
Award for Creative Invention, American Chemical Society
Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
John Scott Medal Award, Board of Directors of City Trusts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Charles W. Hartman Memorial Lecture, University of Mississippi
Honorary Doctor of Science, Centenary College, Hackettstown, New Jersey
Carl-Mannich-Medal, German Pharmaceutical Society
Honorary Dr. phil. nat. h. c. , Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universtät, Frankfurt am Main
Table of Contents
Born in Abazzia, Austria. Multinational, multilingual family. Works in father's pharmacy. Attends elementary school during World War I. Italy occupies Abazzia during Gymnasium years. Moves to Villach where strong interest in chemistry develops. Uses windowsill for laboratory. Parents return to Poland; completes Gymnasium there.
Enrolls in pharmacy curriculum, including several chemistry courses. PhD program in organic chemistry with Professor Dziewonski. Thesis on thioindigo dyes. Loves crystallization. Laboratory conditions. Postdoctoral study on aromatic amines, pyrene and Friedel-Crafts reactions. Future prospects at university poor, urged to leave, because Jewish.
Receives grant to work with (elder) Pauli in Vienna. Works on conductivity determinations, but real interest is organic chemistry. Goes to Fränkel part time for organic work but laboratory conditions and experiments in progress disappointing.
Research fellow under Ruzicka in Zürich. Studies diterpenes. Meets future wife. Enjoys skiing. Close relationship with Ruzicka.
Moves to Basel. Marries Herta Kreuzer. "Encouraged" to leave Switzerland. Emigrates to United States. Senior Chemist in Nutley, New Jersey. Works on syntheses of riboflavin, dosable arsenicals, biotin, biotinol. Seven patents in biotin field with Goldberg. Begins work with 1,4-benzodiazepines in search for new tranquilizers. Stops this work under Goldberg's instructions, but continues unofficially with Reeder while working on antibiotics. Success allows to resume official research on benzodiazepines, leading to discoveries of Librium, Valium, and other related tranquilizers and hypnotics. Discussion of animal testing. Effects of Valium. Sells patents to Hoffmann-La Roche with no regrets.
Enjoys skiing, travel. Frequent trips to Switzerland. Son also a chemist.
American Chemical Society Awards. Honorary doctorates. John Scott Medal. Numerous publications, discoveries, and patents.
About the Interviewer
Tonja A. Koeppel received a master’s degree in chemistry from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in 1944. Since then she has written about chemistry, done research, and taught college chemistry. Dr. Koeppel is also a historian of chemistry. In 1973 she earned a PhD degree in the history and sociology of science from the University of Pennsylvania. She is especially interested in the development of organic chemistry in the 19th and early 20th centuries.