NatureNet Science Fellows

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Giant clam in Pacific, Asia Pacific. (ALL RIGHTS GRANTED TNC)

The Nature Conservancy is, among the philanthropic conservation organizations we are aware of, uniquely entrepreneurial beyond their core competency in land conservation. Their communications outreach is among these excellent extensions of their mission.  This article, about one of the NatureNet Science Fellows, is a good case in point:

Adventures in Alternative Energy: Giant Clam Edition

When most people think about alternative energy sources, Pacific giant clams probably do not spring readily to mind. Within their iridescent tissues, however, the world’s largest clams may well hold the missing link to finally enable the efficient (read: commercially viable) large-scale production of clean biofuels from algae.

Giant clams as alternative energy powerhouses. Who knew?

“I know,” says NatureNet Science Fellow Sanaz Vahidinia with a laugh. “I went from modeling the way sunlight scatters in the dust of the rings of Saturn to modeling the way it scatters in the cells of a Pacific giant clam. Surprisingly, there are many similarities.”

From studying the galactic mysteries of the Milky Way to dissecting Pacific ocean mollusks that can grow to the size of a large Samsonite (at up to about 1.4M, think checked baggage, not carry-on) – it’s definitely not the typical research arc for an astrophysicist with a Ph.D. in physics and an expertise in sophisticated scientific computer modeling.

But for Vahidinia, who is currently working on a Conservancy NatureNet Fellowship in Dr. Alison Sweeney’s Lab at the University of Pennsylvania and using the supercomputing facility at the NASA Ames Research Center in California, it makes perfect sense, both personally and professionally. “I love to connect dots, to see how things relate,” she says. “For me, science is about discovery and solving problems. There’s no bigger problem right now than climate change and to solve that, we need new forms of energy. So: giant clams.”…

Read the whole article here.

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