Meet Dr. Fairbairn

Hometown(s) Hales Corners, WI - ages 0-15
Laguna Beach, CA - ages 15-18
Santa Barbara, CA - ages 18-28
Bodega Bay, CA - ages 28-current

Alma maters and degrees
University of California, Santa Barbara - B.A. in Psychology
University of California, Santa Barbara - B.A. in Biology
University of California, Davis - Ph.D. in Pharmacology and Toxicology

How long have you been teaching?
Teaching is my favorite part of being a scientist! I've been teaching science in one way or another for over 15 years. For the past four years I've taught Environmental Stress and Development in Marine Organisms, an intensely hands-on undergraduate course, including lecture, laboratory and independent research project development for each student. I also regularly give guest lectures related to my research into the environmental implications of nanotechnology in undergraduate and graduate level courses at UC Davis.

I've served as a teaching assistant for a wide range of undergraduate classes (including a developmental biology course at the Misaki Marine Biological Station, University of Tokyo, Japan). In addition to university level education, I love to lead education and outreach for K-12 students and the general public.

I regularly give tours of the UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) and the Bodega Marine Reserve, introducing students and families to the wide variety of coastal habitats the Reserve boasts, and leading them on a behind-the-scenes tour of the laboratory facilities, including world-class research spaces and the wet labs where marine animals are housed. I am also a 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, and 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.

"In the end we will conserve only what we love; we will love only what we understand; and we will understand only what we are taught." --Baba Dioum, 1968

What classes/topics do you teach?
Environmental Stress and Development in Marine Organisms
A variety of topics in coastal and marine sciences for K-12 students and the general public.

Why is aquatic toxicology important?
The release of chemical pollution into the environment has been a persistent and escalating problem that has gone hand in hand with industrialization. The answers to technological, industrial, and consumer problems often involve production of new chemicals.

These chemicals can have unintended consequences in our environment. The pollution of our freshwater and oceanic ecosystems with man-made chemicals is a major concern, and the early life stages of animal development are often uniquely sensitive to these stressors.

My research has focused on characterizing the effects of environmental contaminants on the early developmental life stages of marine and freshwater fish and invertebrates. Fish and aquatic invertebrate embryos can serve as sensitive indicators for impacts of chemical pollution. I have worked with a number of different chemicals, as well as a number of different animals. 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.

My work is conducted in the lab, looking through a microscope, attempting to discern the effects of these chemicals at the cellular level in embryos. In my research I'm interested in not simply observing if a chemical does or does not cause toxicity, but more specifically in knowing how a chemical disrupts embryonic development, so I often look for specific effects on cellular functions.

My work with nanomaterials is part of a large consortium of researchers at the University of California's Center for Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (UC CEIN). Studying the toxicity of nanomaterials is very interesting because of their unique properties, the diversity of structures, and the sheer variety of applications in industry, consumer products, and beyond.

Of course, the impacts of human activities on our coastal and marine ecosystems go well beyond chemical pollution. Human activities contribute to the destruction of habitat, the spread of endangered species, overfishing, climate change, and ocean acidification. The researchers at the UC Davis Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute and Bodega Marine Laboratory use an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to studying these challenging issues.

The ecosystems surrounding the BML are renowned for their productivity and diversity. BML's location on California's north coast has continued to shape the research questions addressed by BML scientists. Although the coast in Bodega Bay is still known for its relatively unspoiled beauty, valuable fisheries, and extraordinarily diverse and productive marine ecosystems, the lab is located approximately 50 miles from one of the most heavily impacted estuaries in the world, San Francisco Bay, and many human impacts to the environment, like climate change, know no boundaries.

Much of the research at BML reflects this dichotomy. BML's unique location has shaped its research focus: investigating ocean processes in a high biodiversity area, and examining environmental impacts from human activities. As researchers, we are dedicated to understanding these changes, so that they can be adequately addressed and mitigated.

What blogs and websites do you visit regularly for info related to marine science?

What's your favorite thing about UC Davis?
The Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute and Bodega Marine Laboratory! For 50 years, BML has provided hands-on training to students who have become leaders in the fields of marine science and policy.

Why do you teach in the pre-college program?
The UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory and Bodega Marine Reserve are located on an amazing stretch of Northern California coast. Exploring the tide pools, grasslands, sandy beach, dunes, and other ecosystems with students is, to put it simply, incredibly fun! Combine that with the world-class research and laboratory facilities at BML and you have an extraordinary experience to offer high school students.

I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share this place, and all it has to offer, with the Pre-College Program students. Giving students an opportunity to fall in love with the ocean is what creates the space for environmental literacy, as well as awareness and concern for threatened marine resources.

Looking back, what do you wish you had known about college before you started?
I wish I had known what a syllabus was! I spent my first quarter with no idea that I should be paying very close attention to that piece of paper the professors handed out on the first day. I was supposed to be completing weekly reading assignments? And going to office hours? And planning for my upcoming exams? WHY DIDN'T ANYONE TELL ME?!? Ha!

What advice about the "college experience" do you have for high school students?
Seek out good mentors! Ask your professors, your teaching assistants, your resident assistants, and anyone else you can find, for help. Finding mentors that can inspire you not only in your career and academics, but in the way you live your life can make all the difference as you move through the challenging transitions of school, work, and life.

What's an interesting or surprising fact about you?
I love to practice aerial silks!

What are your top five "dream travel adventures"?

  1. Antarctica
  2. Iceland
  3. Patagonia (Chile/Argentina)
  4. Via Alpina (a network of five long-distance hiking trails in Europe)
  5. Hike the Appalachian National Scenic Trail and/or Pacific Crest Trail in the USA