All Scientists are Artists at Heart

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Dr. Susan Kuklenyik is pictured here with her husband Peter and their three children. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kuklenyik.
Dr. Susan Kuklenyik is pictured here with her husband Peter and their three children. Photo courtesy of Dr. Kuklenyik.

Meet Dr. Zsuzsanna (Susan) Kuklenyik, Senior Research Scientist and Analytical Chemist, Clinical Chemistry Branch, Division of Laboratory Sciences, National Center for Environmental Health, CDC.

A Passion for Science

Leaving her hometown of Nyiregyhaza, Hungary to pursue a doctorate in bio-inorganic chemistry at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, Susan knew she was home when she smelled “chemistry smells” in a lab at Emory—a smell both familiar and comforting to her. Smells she describes as a mixture of organic chemicals and aromatic compounds. It was her first time in America. “Chemistry and the scientific community created a home for me in the United States.”

Nyiregyhaza is a city in northeastern Hungary. With a population of 118,000, it is the seventh-largest city in Hungary and one of the leading cities of Northern Hungary. It is about 129 miles west of Budapest, the capital and the largest city of Hungary. It was at the University of Budapest where Susan earned a BS and MS in Chemical Engineering.

Susan’s passion from childhood has always been about science. She spent many hours in the cultural center and local library of Nyiregyhaza, always ending up at the shelves that held science books, fascinated at the age of twelve by the world of molecules.

The Path to Public Health

Relocating from Hungary to the United States was made easier because Susan followed the man who would become her husband, Dr. Peter Kuklenyik. They met as students at the university in Budapest. Peter is also a senior research chemist at CDC in the Division of Laboratory Sciences, working in the Tobacco and Volatiles Branch.

Joining CDC in 2000, Susan says she enjoys the freedom and the environment of innovation that Dr. James Pirkle (Director, Division of Laboratory Sciences) as “the heart of DLS” encourages. “He is interested in science, always making things better, keeping our laboratories up-to-date with the latest technology, and encouraging us to experiment with new approaches and techniques.”

Current Work

Susan’s professional motto has always been to maintain a wide range of skills; this has enabled her to work on a wide range of projects at CDC. She has established a project of her own, working on large scale studies of proteins and pathways and networks of cellular lipids in biological systems. Lipids are a naturally occurring group of molecules that include fats, waxes, sterols, fat-soluble vitamins (such as vitamins A, D, E, and K), monoglycerides, diglycerides, triglycerides, phospholipids, and others. These studies focus on high and low density lipoproteins. Lipoproteins are molecules made of proteins and fat. They carry cholesterol and similar substances through the blood.

Susan and her colleagues are most interested in how lab methods are used to determine risk for heart disease. They study how certain proteins and lipids (fats) in blood samples may indicate a level of risk for heart disease. These studies look at the patterns, causes, and effects of health and disease conditions, and are the cornerstone of public health. Data from these studies inform policy decisions and evidence-based practice by identifying risk factors for disease, and targets for preventive healthcare.

CDC has a Lipid Standardization Program. This program provides accuracy-based standards for measuring total cholesterol, triglycerides (an important measure of heart health), and high-density lipoprotein (fat proteins) cholesterol in U.S. and international laboratories. Susan’s mission is to build on this program by incorporating newly emerging cardio-vascular disease biological markers.

Activities enjoyed when not at work

Susan enjoys watching science documentaries on NOVA and through Netflix, especially those that inspire the creative aspects of scientific research. “Sometimes you are inspired to do something for fun. You have an idea that you test just for fun and put it on a shelf, and one day an application or an opportunity comes along where you can apply that idea.” CDC provides the resources that allow Susan to have fun and be innovative—she believes people are more creative when having fun, and not when they are under pressure.

A master crepe maker, Susan loves to cook. Her creative hobby outside the lab is sewing and designing her own clothes, draperies, and slip covers, and her favorite television show is Project Runway (a competitive reality series about fashion design).

“All Scientists are Artists at Heart”

Photo courtesy of Dr. Kuklenyik.
Photo courtesy of Dr. Kuklenyik.

Susan is trying to pass on to her children the importance of working hard to acquire the skills for whatever profession they choose. The importance of “staying with it because there comes a point, a threshold when what you’ve learned becomes intuition, and when it becomes intuition it becomes a lot of fun and a free creative process and you just go with it, wherever it takes you.”

”All scientists are artists at heart. I am an artist at heart. I always try to put my personal touch on whatever I am doing in the laboratory, which makes it mine. Just like an artist puts a personal touch on a painting, I try to put my personal touch on my methods.”

Susan is pictured here with her children, Andrea, Elizabeth, and Daniel, all of whom are in college now. When this photo was taken, she had just completed her doctorate at Emory University. “If there is one day to point to as the most significant milestone in my life, it is this day.”

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Page last reviewed: October 5, 2015
Page last updated: October 5, 2015