Oral history interview with Leo H. Sternbach

Oral history interview with Leo H. Sternbach

  • 1986-Mar-12
Photograph of Leo H. Sternbach
Dr. Leo Sternbach, Science History Institute Collections, gift of Dr. Sternbach

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 Ph.D. 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.

Property Value
Place of interview
  • 49 pages
Rights Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License
Rights holder
  • Science History Institute
Credit line
  • Courtesy of Science History Institute
Digitization funder
  • Audio synchronization made possible through the generous funding of the National Historical Publications and Records Commission.

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.

Physical location

Oral history number 0043

Related Items

Interviewee biographical information

  • May 07, 1908
  • Abbazia, Austria
  • September 28, 2005
  • Chapel Hill, North Carolina, United States


Year Institution Degree Discipline
1929 Uniwersytet Jagielloński MPharm Pharmacy
1931 Uniwersytet Jagielloński PhD Organic Chemistry

Professional Experience

Uniwersytet Jagielloński

  • 1931 to 1937 Research Assistant with Professor K. Dziewonski

Eidgenössische Technische Hochschule Zürich

  • 1937 to 1940 Research Fellow with Professor L. Ruzicka

Roche Diagnostics

  • 1940 to 1941 Research Chemist (Basel, Switzerland)
  • 1941 to 1959 Group Chief (Nutley, New Jersey)
  • 1959 to 1965 Senior Group Chief (Nutley, New Jersey)
  • 1965 to 1967 Section Chief (Nutley, New Jersey)
  • 1966 to 1973 Director of Medicinal Chemistry (Nutley, New Jersey)
  • 1973 to 1988 Consultant (Nutley, New Jersey)


Year(s) Award
1971 Honorary Doctor of Technical Sciences, Technical University, Vienna, Austria
1977 Outstanding Naturalized Citizen Award, Newark Chapter, Unico National
1978 Medicinal Chemistry Award, American Chemical Society, Division of Medicinal Chemistry
1979 Cecil Brown Lectureship, American Chemical Society, North Jersey Section
1979 Award for Creative Invention, American Chemical Society
1979 Chemical Pioneer Award, American Institute of Chemists
1982 John Scott Medal Award, Board of Directors of City Trusts, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
1984 Charles W. Hartman Memorial Lecture, University of Mississippi
1984 Honorary Doctor of Science, Centenary College, Hackettstown, New Jersey
1984 Carl-Mannich-Medal, German Pharmaceutical Society
1986 Honorary Dr. phil. nat. h. c. , Johann Wolfgang Goethe-Universtät, Frankfurt am Main

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PDF — 1.9 MB

The published version of the transcript may diverge from the interview audio due to edits to the transcript made by staff of the Center for Oral History, often at the request of the interviewee, during the transcript review process.

Complete Interview Audio File Web-quality download

4 Separate Interview Segments Archival-quality downloads