Cheryl MurphyWritten by Andy McGlashen, Environmental Science and Policy Program

Some researchers are well into their graduate education before they figure out just what they want to study.

Not so for Cheryl Murphy.

"I've always been interested in fish, since the very beginning," said Murphy, an assistant professor in the Department of Fisheries and Wildlife and Lyman Briggs College.

That interest is obvious in Murphy's educational background: she majored in marine biology at Dalhousie University in Halifax, Nova Scotia; conducted master's research on fish pheromones at the University of Alberta; earned her Ph.D. in oceanography and coastal science from Louisiana State University; and did post-doctoral research on lake trout at the University of Toronto.

More specifically, Murphy is interested in the way fish respond to endocrine-disrupting chemicals like steroids, PCBs and mercury. Her research is especially concerned with the sub-lethal effects of chemicals on fish. Mercury, for instance, "causes fish to swim just a bit slower," and contraceptives that enter waterways may cause feminization of males. She's especially interested in the varying effects of chemicals on specific stocks of fish – that is, genetically unique populations within a species.

Murphy is in the early stages of researching contamination in Lake Superior's lake trout.

"They're all going to have some level of contamination," she said. "We want to determine what effects (the contaminants) have, and if life history plays a role in susceptibility."

As the study progresses, Murphy said she hopes to share her findings and collaborate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

"I'd love to collaborate with agencies, but right now we're just trying to figure out what's happening," she said.

Next summer Murphy, a native of Edmonton, Alberta, will leave the frigid northern waters she's used to for the Mediterranean, where she'll team-teach a study abroad program in environmental science and policy.

When she's not working, Murphy frequently volunteers at music festivals, and enjoys kayaking, biking and reading.

You may be wondering if she enjoys a certain other pastime.

"I used to fish a lot before I did research," she said. "But we have an understanding now."

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