What made you choose Davis?
UC Davis has always been the leading university in my area of research of environmental and human toxicology. It offers an exclusive combination of general research campuses as well as medical and agricultural campuses. The close vicinity offers the unique opportunity to cross-collaborate and integrate interdisciplinary research. I also was drawn to the special niche position in our Department of Environmental Toxicology, marrying traditional protein biochemistry with molecular toxicology and environmental chemistry. I feel like this area of science has barely had its surface scratched, and I am excited to pioneer further developments in the field.
What inspires you?
I grew up in Germany and since I was a small child, I was always interested in animals and plants in my neighborhood and nearby lakes and rivers. My family always had many different types of flowers and fruit trees in their gardens. I helped cultivate my grandma’s fruit and vegetable garden, a typical Schrebergarten, and was amazed at the different types of berries, limes, lettuces, cherries and apples and how to propagate and sow each particular species every year. When I was 12, I started fishing with my friends, and I passed the German-required fishing examination when I was 14. I continued fishing as my hobby for many years. My family always had garden ponds with goldfish and carp, and around that were diverse insects. I was a proud owner and breeder of different freshwater fish and insects until my late 30s. Animals and plants have engulfed my daily life and naturally led to a keen interest in preserving and protecting their habitats and biotopes.
What research are you currently working on? What makes it unique?
My research interests focus on understanding why industrial chemicals and other toxicants enter and accumulate in humans and other animals and plants. The general questions I am addressing include: How many chemicals do we take up with our food? What are the safety systems in our body that should prevent this accumulation? Why do these systems not recognize certain chemicals? Can we develop chemicals that are both effective for their dedicated application but also better eliminated and degraded in the environment?
While most of us have been exposed to media reports on chemicals and other toxins in our food and bodies, most of the research in this field is focusing on detection and measurement of the levels of contaminants. I would like to further understand the underlying biological mechanism of this phenomenon by investigating the accumulation of chemicals in organisms from a macroscale of global concentration assessments to the microscale of how proteins and enzymes in our bodies are unable to recognize and eliminate these compounds.
If you could impart one piece of advice to our undergraduates seeking a course of study/career path, what would it be?
If you don’t know what you want, try to figure out what you don’t want. University studies are notoriously stressful and demand a lot of attention. Sometimes a systematic exclusion approach can help you by clearing your thoughts and opening up new directions and paths. Undergrads, grads and postdocs should continuously talk with peers, friends, family members and scientists from different areas of research about their passions as well as their rational thoughts to choose and remain on the right track. Science is exploration and discovery in its essence, and applying this approach can help you find your way!
When not in the classroom or conducting research, what do you like to do?
Besides work, I enjoy practicing and teaching different types of martial arts, running and yoga with my wife. At home, I like to ferment different foods and drinks, including kimchi, kombucha, pickles, and (being a typical German) sauerkraut. I particularly like to prepare and explore new types of salads.
Have you found your favorite spot on campus yet?
Not yet. But I am very excited about the sustainability and conservation projects of the arboretum and public gardens at UC Davis. I am also a fan of simply having a coffee in a quiet place on campus.
If you could have one superpower, what would it be and why?
I would love to have the superpower of never forgetting what I have read! With this, I would be able to bioaccumulate (no pun intended) knowledge and try to apply this wealth of information for thoughtful advice and support the health of humanity.
Are you the first in your family to complete university?
Yes, I am. My mom stopped school when she was 16 years old to take care of her family and my dad was trained as a car mechanic and later completed his technical college education in mechanical engineering of automobiles at a night school. While I was drawn to becoming a handyman based on watching and helping my dad repairing cars and trucks, my love for the most sophisticated machines on earth – animals and plants – always prevailed.