Berkeley’s SMART program connected Lindsey Dougherty and Alex Niebergall. Their breakthrough research on how and why Ctenoides ales, better known as the “Disco Clam,” emits its signature flashes of light received global news coverage, including The New York Times.
SMART provides crucial summer funding for graduate mentors and undergraduate mentees to undertake original research at Berkeley.
Lindsey, a Ph.D. student in Integrative Biology, selected Alex, a third-year undergraduate student in Marine Science, to advance the research she had pioneered. Lindsey found the clam’s inner lip has light-reflecting silica components, and the outer lip absorbs light. The opening and closing of the clam’s lips causes the “disco” flashing.
This SMART team is investigating whether increased flashing around predators serves to ward off threats, is a spawning signal, or is a lure to attract the plankton on which clams feed. Their research contributes to understanding structural coloration and biophotonics, processes with promising industrial and biotechnical implications.
Nobel Laureate and UC Berkeley faculty member Randy Schekman has participated in the SMART Program as a faculty advisor. He credits SMART with nurturing academic growth among undergraduate and graduate students, enhancing research on the Berkeley campus.