Environmental toxicologist Don Smith receives Outstanding Faculty Award

portrait of Don Smith with forest background
Don Smith, distinguished professor of microbiology and environmental toxicology, receives 2023 Outstanding Faculty Award for his dedication to advancing knowledge in his field and his commitment to the well-being of the university. (Photo by Carolyn Lagattuta)

Don Smith, distinguished professor of microbiology and environmental toxicology, has been awarded the 2022-2023 Outstanding Faculty Award from the Division of Physical and Biological Sciences. The annual award is the division’s highest honor for faculty achievement, recognizing combined excellence in research, teaching, and service. 

Dean Bryan Gaensler applauded Smith's achievements, stating, "Professor Smith's dedication to advancing knowledge in his field and his commitment to the well-being of both the university and the broader community make him a truly outstanding faculty member, and a role model to us all."

For over two decades, Smith's research has delved into the environmental and biological impacts of toxins on both children and adults. His studies have yielded groundbreaking insights into the functional impacts and neuromolecular mechanisms of toxic metals on neurodevelopment. These findings have not only deepened the understanding of environmentally-based behavioral disorders but also opened avenues for potential therapies.

A notable figure in environmental health policy, Smith's advocacy efforts have resulted in the passage of two California State Assembly Bills. These bills ban the use of lead ammunition in hunting and provide protections for researchers against harassment. Smith's work has left a lasting impact, contributing to a healthier and more conscientious world.

The heart of Smith's research explores the diverse impacts of environmental toxins on health, emphasizing four main areas surrounding toxic metals. From understanding health impacts to exploring the mechanistic basis of environmentally-based diseases, biological markers of exposure, and therapies in humans and wildlife, Smith's work demonstrates a commitment to holistic research.

Smith's collaborative efforts with Myra Finkelstein, his long-time colleague, translated research findings into tangible legislative action. Their work on wildlife toxicology, revealing the source of lead poisoning of scavenging birds like California Condors, prompted a statewide ban on lead bullets for hunting.

Beyond research and policy advocacy, Smith is a dedicated educator. Having devoted a significant part of his professional life to training graduate and undergraduate students, he continues to inspire and mentor students from a diverse range of backgrounds. Smith currently serves as the associate dean of graduate studies and postdoctoral affairs, and actively invests in service opportunities that enhance graduate education and student well-being.

Internationally recognized, Smith serves as an esteemed faculty member in the International PhD Program in Technology, Environment, and Health at the University of Brescia in Italy. He has also held the position of chair and vice chairperson for the Microbiology and Environmental Toxicology Department at UC Santa Cruz.

Smith's educational journey includes a B.A. in Biology from UC Santa Cruz, an M.A. in Biology from California State University, San Francisco, a Ph.D. in Biology from UC Santa Cruz, and postdoctoral training at the University of Maryland, Baltimore and at UC San Francisco. This latest accolade adds to the rich tapestry of Smith's impactful contributions to academia and society at large.