discoclam1Sometimes, I wonder, “Is there anybody outside of my small field, or even just the 5th floor, that cares about my research? Is the rest of the world interested in the questions and discoveries that are born within the walls of the Valley Life Science Building?” Yes: they are interested, and Berkeley graduate student Lindsey Dougherty recently proved this by capturing the attention and imagination of the outside world with her research on Disco Clams. And like an underground electronic track that goes viral, her Disco Clams are now pulsing through more than just the science-geek scene. Lindsey is part of the Caldwell Lab and Integrative Biology (a member of my cohort, I’ll proudly claim).

Lindsey, in a nutshell, is an extension of the ocean. She surfs (often braving the cold, 6 a.m. waves of Pacifica or Half Moon Bay before a day at the lab), she dives (she was a dive master long before she came to Berkeley), and she is obsessed with her clams. You will be hard pressed to find another graduate student quite so excited about their model organism as Lindsey. I remember one ecstaticand concernedLindsey talking about feeding her clams when they first arrived.

But it’s hard not to be excited about disco clams. Lindsey saw her first disco clam (a rare sight in its natural habitat) while diving in Indonesia. Her reaction to its strobing lights was most appropriate – she had a flash underwater dance party. When she surfaced, she told everyone that she was going to do a Ph.D. on disco clams, eliciting a few laughs. She spent the next couple of years trying to research them, contacting countless professors, but finding little information about these spectacular creatures. Eventually, she joined Roy Caldwell’s lab, and after a little convincing and a slow start (virtually nothing is known about their life history and behavior) she is now researching her dream organism and the question she is ultimately most interested in: why disco clams flash.