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, with an emphasis in the reproduction and development of aquatic organisms.

In the science world there are many things that fascinate me, in particular: animal embryonic development, the mechanisms of toxicity, and human impacts on the ocean. These interests intersect in aquatic toxicology. My research has focused on characterizing the effects of environmental pollution on the early developmental life stages of marine and freshwater fish and invertebrates. Embryos and larvae are often uniquely sensitive to chemical (and other) stressors. For example, I studied the ways that the chemicals found in fossil fuels (e.g. oil and gas) affect very early development in herring and other fish embryos. And more recently, I've investigated an emerging class of pollutants called nanomaterials, and the effects they have on sea urchin embryos.

I have been a student, researcher and educator at the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) for over 15 years. One of my favorite things about working at BML is that I get to interact and collaborate with environmental scientists from a variety of disciplines, including aquatic toxicology, oceanography, physiology, terrestrial and marine ecology, conservation biology, and environmental policy. I love to think, talk and communicate about science and conservation, and I've found that the best conversations often happen where these fields intersect.

Teaching curious students of all ages has become my favorite part of being a scientist. For the past four years I've taught UC Davis undergraduates about the effects of stressors on the embryonic development of marine invertebrates. I am also the co-founder of the BML outreach program ISOpods (Inquiry-based Science Outreach Pods) which develops hands-on marine science curriculum for Sonoma County K-12 schools. Additionally, I am the co-creator of a science outreach seminar series for the general public, Science Uncorked, hosted at Gourmet au Bay wine bar in Bodega Bay, CA.

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 help students discover the diverse coastal ecosystems of Sonoma County, CA, and to learn how human activities are impacting these valuable natural resources.