The Oregon State University Sesquicentennial Oral History Project

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Robert Tanguay Oral History Interview

Life history interview conducted by Chris Petersen.

April 21, 2017


“Thinking Outside the Tank”  April 21, 2017  Location: Valley Library, Oregon State University.  Watch Video | Download Transcript (PDF)

In the interview, Tanguay discusses his blue collar upbringing in Michigan and southern California, focusing at multiple points on the ways in which his childhood helped to shape his work ethic and determination as a scientist. He likewise outlines his educational experiences through college and the circumstances by which he ultimately chose to pursue a career in science.

Following a discussion of his master's and Ph.D. research and his early teaching, Tanguay provides an in depth recollection of his post-doctoral years at the University of Wisconsin, where he first began to experiment with the zebrafish model that would come to define much of his career. He then traces his first academic appointment at the University of Colorado, noting the scholarly work that he did during this time and the circumstances that ultimately led him to relocate to Oregon State University.

In reflecting on his introduction to OSU, Tanguay recalls the fraught physical process of moving to Corvallis during a snowstorm. He then shares his memories of George Bailey and of the aquatic lab that Tanguay inherited from Bailey in 2003. From there, Tanguay provides insight into the extensive renovations that the facility has undergone in the years that followed, noting in particular the emphasis on automation that has driven much of the reconstruction. Tanguay likewise details the significant scientific work that has been conducted in this renovated space, focusing in particular on the toxicological tests of 1,200 different compounds that were funded by a major EPA grant in 2009.

The remainder of the interview is focused primarily on Tanguay's future ambitions. After responding to a question about political attacks on scientists, Tanguay details his notions of how the zebrafish model might be used to better understand the human condition. He also speaks of his on-going work to educate both public and private entities about specific toxins in the environment; reflects on the ways in which his role has shifted as his lab has grown; and delineates a few of the many sets of experiments that he hopes to pursue in the years to come. The interview concludes with thoughts on the university as it looks toward its sesquicentennial.