Giant Clam Biology Inspires Future Solar Research

In 2014, scientific research showed that we have a lot to learn about harnessing solar power from the giant clam. Joint research conducted by scientists from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of California, Santa Barabara, uncovered a fascinating characteristic of clam shells.

It turns out the iridescent features on the lips of giant clam shells are as functional as they are beautiful. Their sheen directs sunlight into the clam, where algae soaks it in for photosynthesis. In turn, the algae provides energy for the clam.

In nature, the majority of iridescent cells – such as those on butterflies and beetles – are dead, like our hair and fingernails. On the giant clam’s shell, however, the cells are alive. These reflective cells allow photons to be redirected deeper into the clam more than scientists expected.

Now the team from UoC Santa Barbara has uncovered yet another pearl of wisdom from the giant clam, this time from how a white colouration is produced in some of those very same iridescent cells.

Researchers found two different ways the white cells are produced in two species of giant clam. In one, the reflection of mixed coloured iridescent cells creates white.

The second type of white cell gains its colour as a result of a process similar to that of mobile phone and television screens, a combination of red, green and blue light. Multiple wavelengths of light are reflected, which makes the cells look white to the naked eye.

This discovery, published in Optica (The Optical Society’s journal), may help improve the efficiency of solar cells. As the research is still focused on the symbiotic relationship between the giant clam and the algae its shell redirectS sunlight to, increased understanding of how iridescent cells enhance the algae’s photosynthesis processes can lead to the creation of more efficient solar cells.

Photosynthesis – the biological process by which plants convert light into energy – is of special interest to the solar industry for research. The giant clams offer keen insights, as both the structure and functionality of their light redirection mechanisms could potentially lead to solar panel improvements in the future.

While the time between biological research and new tech is significant, it’s still great to know that solar infrastructure will continue to evolve and retain relevancy for many years to come.

To get started with the solar power specialists, contact Solar Solutions today!