Today at Berkeley Lab

Susan Celniker Creates STEM Fund in Her Father’s Memory

— By Keri Troutman


When Life Sciences Division Science Deputy Sue Celniker’s father passed away recently, she felt that there could be no more fitting tribute to his dedication to science and engineering and his firm support of women in STEM than to set up a fund in his name. So she spoke with Berkeley Lab Foundation President Ivy Clift and they created the Leo Celniker Fund for Women in Science. Administered through Berkeley Lab Foundation, the fund will sponsor the work of graduate students at Berkeley Lab. Celniker’s hope is that the fund grows large enough that it could be endowed and exist forever.

Leo Celniker obtained his BS and MS from MIT in 1948 and worked at Oak Ridge National Lab from 1949 to 1951. He met Sue Celniker’s mother, Phyllis at Oak Ridge. The couple moved to California, where Leo joined Lockheed Aircraft Corporation and worked as the chief engineer on numerous projects. He moved to Skunk Works in 1975, Lockheed’s Advanced Development Program, where he worked on the multiple famous aircraft designs.

Leo was a card-carrying member of the National Organization of Women (NOW) for more than 20 years, and always encouraged and supported his daughter’s interest in science, beginning in high school when he’d drive her from the San Fernando Valley to the L.A. Natural History Museum to take summer classes. Sue recalls Leo talking about what it was like for women at his alma mater, MIT—back in the 1940s when there were only five women enrolled.

“He put a lot of effort into our education,” Sue Celniker says. “And he always made it clear that he believed I could do anything I wanted in a science field, although he did think with my interests I should consider becoming a medical doctor.”

Celniker, who has built a successful career in science with her father’s constant encouragement, has studied the relationships of genomics and human disease for most of her career, and she is currently also the co-director of the Berkeley Drosophila Sequencing Program of the Drosophila Genome Center, which seeks to answer one of the big questions in biology today: now that the human genome and many other genomes have been sequenced, how does the information encoded in an organism’s genome make an organism what it is?

Sue started her scientific career early, teaching herpetology and ichthyology at the L.A. Museum of Natural History as a high school student, and then working on Huntington’s Disease at City of Hope while attending Pitzer College as an undergraduate. She acknowledges that it was often challenging to be one of the few women in a scientific program, especially as a postdoctoral fellow at Caltech, where she served as a member of the committee to establish the Caltech’s Women’s Center now the Caltech Center for Diversity.

“I’ve always had a deep interest in trying to facilitate more avenues for women in science,” Sue says. “And this seemed to me a way to build a legacy of that in my dad’s name.”

Go here to learn more about the Berkeley Lab Foundation. To find out more about the Leo Celniker Fund for Women in Science, contact Ivy Clift (650-804-8490).