Charles Susskind, UC Berkeley professor emeritus and
co-founder of campus bioengineering program, dies at 82
BERKELEY – Charles Susskind, professor
emeritus of electrical engineering and a co-founder of bioengineering
studies at the University of California, Berkeley, has died at the age of
Susskind died June 15 at his home in Berkeley after a long battle with
Charles Susskind. (Photo
by Peter Susskind)
Early in his academic career, Susskind's research focused on the
generation and transmission of microwaves. By the early 1960s, he had
become interested in the interaction of microwaves with biological
"He recognized early on the importance of studying biological and
health effects of microwaves and electromagnetic fields long before it
became of general public interest," said Martin Graham, UC Berkeley
professor emeritus of electrical engineering.
Susskind's work on the intersection of engineering with biological
sciences became a driving force for his advocacy of a bioengineering
program at UC Berkeley. Working with Irving Fatt, at the time a UC
Berkeley professor of mechanical engineering, Susskind organized the
campus's first bioengineering graduate training program and later helped
expand it to an undergraduate curriculum.
Their efforts formed the foundation for the Joint UC Berkeley/UC San
Francisco Graduate Group in Bioengineering in 1982, and the Department of
Bioengineering in 1999.
"Susskind and Fatt were the founding fathers of Berkeley's current
academic programs in bioengineering," said Edwin Lewis, professor
emeritus of electrical engineering. "He (Susskind) was a vital
participant during the coming of age of bioengineering at Berkeley."
Born in Prague, now the Czech Republic, on August 19, 1921, Susskind
had his sights set on the United States at a young age. He applied for
U.S. immigration in 1938 when he was 16, but was told he would have to
wait two years. One year later, the Nazis occupied Czechoslovakia, and his
father died from a medical condition, prompting Susskind and his older
brother, Walter, to flee to England.
Although he could not speak English at the time, he would later become
fluent in English, French and German, in addition to his native Czech.
In London, after World War II broke out, Susskind joined the U.S. Army
as a radar specialist for the Air Corps, the precursor to the U.S. Air
While in England, Susskind met his wife, Teresa, who was working as a
code-breaker with the Women's Royal Naval Service. They would always
remember May 1, 1945-the day they got married.
"When we stepped out after our wedding, we saw a newspaper stand
with headlines that Hitler was dead," said Teresa Susskind.
"Hitler had shot himself on April 30. Charles said that was the best
wedding present he could ever get."
After the war ended, Susskind and his wife moved to the United States
and became U.S. citizens. He earned his bachelor's degree in electrical
engineering at the California Institute of Technology in 1948, and his
Ph.D. in electrical engineering at Yale University in 1951.
He returned to California and spent the next four years at Stanford
University as a research associate and lecturer before joining the UC
Berkeley faculty as an assistant professor in electrical engineering in
His keen interest in the historical context of technology's rise in the
20th century greatly influenced his writings. His numerous books covered
the lives of such influential inventors as Heinrich Rudolf Hertz, Nikola
Tesla and Guglielmo Marconi. His writings and talks also reflected his
interest in the biological effects of exposure to electromagnetic fields.
His concern with the role of technology in society led him to propose
an engineer's version of the Hippocratic Oath in one of his books,
"Understanding Technology." Engineers swearing by the oath would
promise, among other things, not to use their professional knowledge
contrary to the laws of humanity and to avoid waste and consumption of
nonrenewable resources. The book has been translated into seven languages
since it was first released in 1968.
Susskind and his wife founded San Francisco Press in 1959, and he
served as the editor-in-chief for "Encyclopedia of Electronics,"
published by McGraw-Hill.
Susskind served as assistant dean of UC Berkeley's College of
Engineering from 1964 to 1968. In 1969, he took a position at the UC
Office of the President as coordinator of academic affairs for all UC
campuses. In 1985, he became chairman of the U.S. Environmental Protection
Agency's presidential scientific advisory committee.
In 1974, he returned to teaching at UC Berkeley. He remained active
after his retirement in 1991, presenting a keynote address on the history
of radar in 1995 at the International Telecommunications Conference.
Among the many honors Susskind earned were a Fulbright Scholarship in
1961, a National Science Foundation Senior Faculty Fellowship in 1968, and
numerous awards from the Institute of Electrical and Electronics
Throughout his life, Susskind kept alive the love of music instilled in
him by his family. His mother, who had survived Nazi concentration camps,
including Auschwitz, was a pianist. His brother, Walter Susskind, became a
world-renowned conductor, most notably for the St. Louis Symphony.
Colleagues recalled tales of Charles Susskind, who played cello,
writing newspaper reviews of the San Francisco Symphony on a typewriter in
the back seat of his car while his wife drove home from a performance. He
subscribed to the San Francisco Opera and the San Francisco Symphony for
nearly 50 years.
Susskind is survived by his wife, Teresa, of Berkeley; daughters,
Pamela Pettler and Amanda Susskind, both of Los Angeles; son, Peter
Susskind, of Kensington; and two grandsons.
Memorial services are pending.