The Loh Down On Science

Clam Diggers

A new robotic digging device takes its cue from the experts: clams.

And now: offshore drilling the natural way!

This is Sandra Tsing Loh with The Loh Down on Science

Ever tried to push a plastic shovel into wet sand at the beach? Not so easy. And yet a humble little clam can bury itself in the sand faster than a predator can dig for it--using a hundred times less force! But how?

To find out, mechanical engineers at MIT packed sand-sized glass beads into a transparent box and tossed in a razor clam. Then they rolled the high-speed cameras.

Turns out, the clam first pushes out against its surroundings, then snaps shut while jerking sharply upward. The resulting suction loosens the tightly packed sand under the shell. Clam drops through.

Repeat this action over and over, and our dogged little digger can scoot down through silt or muck at two feet a minute. The scientists have built an underwater digging device using this principle. Their "roboclam" is ten times more efficient than drilling. Enough to make an oilman happy as a. . . you know. . .

Never mind that the resulting chowder is a bit gamey


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