Dr. Ellie Fairbairn

Coastal & Marine Sciences

Ellie Fairbairn

When I was in high school my family and I moved from Wisconsin to coastal California, and, like a cliché, I fell in love with the ocean. But my path to marine science was meandering; I worked at a bank for a decade and I earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology before I became interested in marine biology, environmental issues, and conservation. After my circuitous journey, I emerged with a Ph.D. in toxicology, specializing in the study of the effects of man-made chemical pollution on the reproduction and early development of aquatic animals. My research includes examining well-known sources of pollution as well as new and emerging contaminants. For example, I have investigated the ways that the chemicals found in fossil fuels (e.g. oil) affect very early development in herring and other fish embryos; I have also investigated an emerging class of pollutants called nanomaterials, and the effects they have on sea urchin embryos. Embryos and larvae are often uniquely sensitive to exposure to chemical pollution as well as to other stressors (like changes in temperature, salinity, and pH). When we think about the organisms in the ocean, we don't often think of these unique, microscopic, and delicate early life stages. But understanding how chemical pollution and other human activities impact them is critical to protecting the marine animals and ecosystems we love.

I have been a student, researcher, and educator at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) for over 17 years. Teaching curious students of all ages has become my favorite part of being a scientist. From teaching UC Davis undergraduates about the effects of stressors on the embryonic development of marine invertebrates, to co-hosting a science outreach seminar series for the public (Science Uncorked); engaging with students from “K to gray” allows me to see the amazing natural world anew. I am thrilled to lead the UC Davis Pre-College Program in Coastal & Marine Sciences, and cannot wait to guide students as they explore the diverse coastal ecosystems of Sonoma County, CA, and discover how human activities are impacting these valuable natural resources.