Inspired by His Immigrant Heritage, Albert Schatz’s Discovery Saves Lives

By Yelena Gerovich

New American Acculturation Program Coordinator

Autumn in Connecticut is a breathtaking sight to behold. The trees burst into a magnificent tapestry of colors. The crisp, cool air carries the promise of the joyous gatherings of families coming together to celebrate the Jewish holidays. It is a time when cherished memories are shared, and stories of courage and innovation take center stage.

It is a also a time when we remember Albert Schatz, the Jewish scientist from Norwich, Connecticut who, 80 years ago in October 1943, discovered a cure for the deadly disease tuberculosis, forever changing the course of medical history.

Schatz's journey began on a farm in Norwich, where his immigrant parents, one from Russia and the other from Poland, raised him with a strong work ethic and a love for education. Growing up in a tight-knit Jewish community, young Albert was immersed in the rich tapestry of his cultural heritage. The immigrant experience forged in him a spirit of resilience and a profound appreciation for the opportunities that America offered. 

Schatz excelled academically and, in 1942, set out to earn his Ph.D., under the mentorship of Selman Waksman. Himself a Russian Jewish immigrant, Waksman had pioneered soil microbiology research at Rutgers. In 1943, the Mayo Clinic asked Waksman to search for an antibiotic to combat the virulent disease tuberculosis. Waksman entrusted the mission to Schatz.

On October 19, 1943, Schatz made a historic discovery – in just three and a half months of tireless work, he had found an antibiotic effective against both tuberculosis and gram-negative bacteria. He named it streptomycin. Tuberculosis, often referred to as TB, loomed as a formidable and widespread health threat during the early to mid-20th century. His work saved countless lives and laid the foundation for the development of modern antibiotics, ushering in a medical revolution.

After the discovery, a dispute arose between Schatz and Waksman over the patent rights for streptomycin. Waksman, as the head of the laboratory and Schatz's mentor, claimed that the discovery was the result of the collective efforts of his research team and, therefore, belonged to the university. Over time, Schatz received increasing recognition for his role in the discovery of streptomycin, especially in the scientific community.

While Albert Schatz did not receive a Nobel Prize like his mentor Selman Waksman, he did receive other honors and awards for his work. For example, he was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Microbiology. The fight against tuberculosis continues, and Albert Schatz's legacy inspires us all to persevere in the quest for a TB-free world. 

The New American Acculturation Program provides educational classes, programs and holiday celebrations. For more information, including sponsorships of specific programs, please contact Yelena Gerovich at 203 387-2424x321, or email





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