Leah Kahn

Mechanics and Defensive Functions of Gastropod Shell Ornamentation

Mollusk shells have been objects of fascination throughout human history, in part due to their striking ornamentation in the form of knobs, ridges, and spines. These elaborate structures are hypothesized to be so prevalent among mollusks because they protect against breakage by shell-crushing predators. However, the mechanisms by which ornamentation contributes to defense remain largely unknown. This project will use compression tests of 3D-printed shell models to study the mechanical behavior of spines in gastropod mollusks, in order to better understand how spine morphology affects resistance to forces such as those applied by predators. Using 3D prints eliminates many of the confounding factors that typically accompany studies of biological specimens, allowing the influence of morphology to be isolated and investigated. These results will contribute to our understanding of the selective pressures driving mollusk evolution on geologic timescales and help to explain the high morphological disparity observed today. Knowledge of how ornamentation contributes to shell strength may also lead to the development of new bioinspired technologies.

Message to Sponsor

Thank you to my donor for allowing me to fully dedicate my summer to research! This project is incredibly interesting and exciting to me, and I am grateful for the opportunity to pursue it. I look forward to developing my skills as an independent researcher and scientist over the course of this experience.
  • Major: Integrative Biology, Geology
  • Sponsor: Leadership Fund
  • Mentor: Seth Finnegan, Jack Tseng