PhD Student Dawson Fairbanks

Dawson Fairbanks, a PhD student in the lab of Dr. Virginia Rich has been awarded a 2015 NSF Graduate Research Fellowship. Dawson is a UA Alfred P. Sloan Fellow, and a Critical Zone Observatory research graduate student.

Dawson received her Bachelor’s of Science degree from Northern Arizona University, Flagstaff, AZ in Biological Sciences. She worked on several independent research projects there studying microbial response to climate change using models that simulate biochemical processes in soil. Following her graduation, she worked a year in 2013 as an Americorps service volunteer on a variety of conservation projects in the desert southwest.

Dawson enrolled in the University of Arizona to follow her passion of studying microbes in the environment. Given the key but poorly defined role microbes play in regulating global biogeochemical cycles, her work at the Critical Zone observatory provides a unique systems level context to understand changes in microbial community composition and function following nonlinearities in landscape evolution (e.g. fire disturbance and moisture inputs).


The basis of Dawson’s NSF Fellowship is to understand the role of microbial community composition and function to fire disturbance. Specifically she will look at the influence and fate of charred material on carbon storage by linking microbial community structure to turnover rates. As part of her fellowship, Dawson will also work with the CZO outreach team to develop science outreach activities for K-12 students as part of the CZO Discovery Program.