As of today, scientists have diverted their attention to giant clam shells in an attempt to find out how they can help to provide better phone and monitor displays. Okay, you may be wondering whether we are looking forward to an era of Flintstones or not but believe us when we say, ‘we are looking at modern technology and not just time travel to Stone Age, we mean it!’
Scientists are hopeful that these giant clam shells can help to produce phone, TV and monitor screens that are less reflective, have more enriched colors and have better efficiency. Not just video technology, scientists are pretty optimistic about revolutionizing the tools that can harness solar energy. Yes, we are speaking of solar panels.
So, Why Giant Clam Shells?
Giant clam shells are known to be iridescent by nature. This is precisely what managed to attract the attention of optical physicist Amitabh Ghoshal from University of California, Santa Barbara. Ghoshal and his team are currently in the process of studying how the iridescent cells on a giant clam shell enhance photosynthesis through algae interaction. What really pushed these researchers to take a proper look at the giant clams’ iridescent shells is the extraordinary colors they produced. The colors from these shells managed to seamlessly put the colors generated by modern day computer monitors and phone screens to shame. The brilliance of the colors from the clams made researchers think if they can actually put them to use and improve modern-day video technology.
About Giant Clam Shells and Their Colors
So, what is so special about these clams and their shells? Well, these clams are natives to the Indian and Pacific Ocean coral reefs. The exposed flesh found in these clams are blessed with iridescent cells, capable of producing an extraordinary array of brilliant colors that can range anywhere from shades of blue and green to breathtakingly beautiful golden colors. However, they seldom produce white but when they do, that’s a treat for the eyes. During their research, the learned men found that every single giant clam will produce completely different colors. In other words, the colors two giant clams produce will never be identical.
As far as the survival of the giant clams is concerned, they have a symbiotic relationship with microalgae. The clams take nutrients from the microalgae and in return, the nitrogen-rich waste produced by the clams ensure the survival of the microalgae. The light generated by the iridescent cells of the clams is converted into energy by help of photosynthesis. Because the clams generate energy using sunlight and light they produce, the researchers started wondering whether it is possible to improve the solar panels using these giant clam shells or not. Possibly yes! However, absolutely certainty is yet to be achieved.
Production of White Color by the Giant Clam Shells
This is important. As mentioned earlier, these giant clams are known for seldom producing white color. This however does not mean that they do not produce white at all. They do and different species have different methods of achieving the same results. Ghoshal and his team studied two specific types of clam species – the Tridacna derasa and Tridacna maxima. In both these species, the researched focused on the rare white color and found that the production of this color depends on how the clams mix other colors. So, why white in the first place? That’s because white is important for all forms of display units – mobiles, TVs and computer monitors. LEDs can easily generate white but in case of these clams, this color in particular is a scarce one.
During the study, the researchers found something extraordinary. They found that both these clam species generate white using similar process that allows generation of white in LED screens, i.e. by mixing there basic colors – blue, green and red. However, when it comes to individual clam species, they have slightly different methods.
Tridacna derasa have multicolored iridocytes. That is, each separate iridocyte has multiple colors. From a distance, these iridocytes together look like white color. In Tridacna maxima however, the iridocytes are not multicolored. Different iridocytes in Tridacna maxima reflect different colors and when they are in tight clusters they appear white. This process used by Tridacna maxima is very similar to how RGB pixels clusters produce white in LED screens.
So, Real Giant Clam Shells Will Be Used?
If this question came to your mind, we apologize for the slight confusion. NO! Ghoshal and his colleagues do not aim on using the actual giant clam shells for producing display units or solar panels. They rather want to come up with structures that are found on the clams and then control them to achieve better displays and solar panels. What will happen is that if they researchers succeed, they will deliver display units that perform really well in low light conditions. They came up with this idea because these giant clams live in very low light conditions and yet they look extremely bright. Moreover they live in places where sunlight is scares but yet they make brilliant and highly efficient use of whatever sunlight they get to generate energy. So, understanding the clams can produce knowledge which may become the key to produce more efficient solar panels too that will not only require less space but will also work extremely well in low light conditions.
As of now, Amitabh Ghoshal and his team members Daniel Morse and Elizabeth Eck have collaborated with Center for Polymers and Organic Solids’ director Guillermo Bezan at University of California and are making some progress in the field. In case you are interested in studying the full paper they have published, head for this link.