Sophia Leiker


My name is Sophia Leiker. I'm from Chico, California. I recently graduated from the University of California - Berkeley where I received my B.S in Environmental Sciences. 

What sustainability, energy, and community issues are important to you?

The potential of developing and optimizing widespread renewable energy devices I believe is one of the most exciting fields of science today. Combining earth science data alongside advanced engineering techniques has expanded the locations we can implement clean energy on a widespread scale. The use of mapping technologies (GIS) with satellite imagery and drone footage has allowed a more extensive understanding of the factors needed to be considered when designing devices for increasing efficiency and returns. I am passionate about assisting in a smooth transition from our fossil fuel based economy by developing affordable and accessible renewable energy sources for communities all across the socioeconomic spectrum.

What exciting projects/research are you working on now?

I have recently completed my thesis capstone project on using GIS (Geographic Information Systems) to develop optimization models to visualize the potential spacial spatial distribution of marine hydrokinetic energy devices (ocean energy) off the coast of California. The California coast contains 840 miles of coastline and strong year-round wave patterns exhibit good potential for ocean energy extraction. I examined suitability distributions for the two main categories of marine hydrokinetic energy: rotating turbines which are similar to wind turbines but instead extract energy from ocean currents, and wave energy converters which take vertical and horizontal wave motion to generate energy using buoys, rotors, and generator systems. Using a GIS suitability analysis, and specifications provided by the most commercially available marine hydrokinetic energy devices I tested locations for optimal conditions needed for implementation. My results were extremely promising as approximately half of my study sample of potential locations were rated highly suitable for wave energy extraction. The development of these devices are rapidly accelerating around the world and can help our transition towards a more renewable energy future.

What are your plans for the next five years?

I am excited to pursue many opportunities working for cutting edge sustainability and energy related issues.

What made you want to apply to SISE?

While further advancing my sustainability analysis skills is one of my major objectives from this program, I am most looking forward to being able to optimize results and create tangible products via collaboration with other SISE participants. The ability to combine approaches in creating an abstract solution to tackling a problem or interpreting data is a powerful tool in moving forward in understanding our interactions with the natural world. In short, pragmatic problem-solving in this project-oriented environment can help stimulate my growth as a scientist. In collaborating with other individuals with different specialties I hope the work we carry out will push me to expand my skills beyond my current capacity and allow me to explore the community of people passionate about energy and sustainability.

What are you most looking forward to doing in Chicago?

Being my first time in Chicago, I am most excited about visiting Millennium Park and experiencing the social atmosphere of the city.

Do you like Cats? If not, are you willing to learn to like cats?


I have grown up in a household run by a mischievous orange tabby cat. We have been best buds ever since he adopted our family after we started feeding him extra tuna in our backyard.