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.
Welcome Message from Dr. Fairbairn
Welcome to the Pre-college Program in Coastal & Marine Sciences!
The UC Davis Bodega Marine Laboratory (BML) and Bodega Marine Reserve are treasured classrooms unlike any you've ever seen before. You will have the opportunity to explore tide pools, grasslands, sandy beaches, dunes and more. Combine that with the world-class research and laboratory facilities at BML and you have an extraordinary chance to learn about ocean science and the human impacts to our coastal ecosystems.
I am thrilled to have the opportunity to share this place and all it has to offer. The health of coastal ecosystems is closely linked to the health of the land and nearby watersheds. Scientists at the UC Davis Coastal and Marine Sciences Institute (CMSI) and the Bodega Marine Laboratory take an integrated "Sierra-to-Sea" approach to addressing the environmental impacts from human activities on one of the most biologically and economically productive coastlines in the world. And as a student in the UC Davis Pre-college Program in Coastal & Marine Sciences, so will you.
Nearly three quarters of the population of California lives in coastline counties, making the challenges of a sustainable coastal ocean especially critical and urgent. You will have the opportunity to fall in love with the coast, while learning about cutting-edge marine science.
I am excited to meet you, and begin our coastal adventure!
Q&A with Dr. Fairbairn
- 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
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 U.S.