Following his passion

Rochelle grad working on shrimp species identification project

ROCHELLE – One college sophomore from Rochelle is conducting research on clam shrimp shells in hopes to create a new way of identifying the different species.
Nikos Konstans, a graduate from Rochelle Township High School, has been conducting research using an electron scanning microscope, looking at the shells of different species of clam shrimp.
“A clam shrimp is a small shrimp-like creature that lives in a shell,” explained Konstans.
Konstans became interested in fossils and paleontology when he was 5 years old and went through a dinosaur phase. When he grew up, that love stuck with him and carried over into his studies of clam shrimp.
Until now there are generally two different ways of identifying clam shrimp, the biological way — which involves looking at the head, body, legs and tissues of the clam shrimp — or the paleontological or fossilized way — where all you have is the shell so all you can look at is the ornamentation patterns.
Many biologists don’t believe the paleontological way is accurate but Konstans is hoping his finding will prove this wrong.
“A lot of biologists don’t see the shell as viable for identifying a species, because up until recently it has been seen as a variable thing. What I am working on is proving that it is not variable, that it is specific from species to species. So that the shell can be used to identify them,” said Konstans
Clam shrimp were first being discovered during the Cold War era when scientists from different cultures and countries did not interact with each other. This led to three or four different ways of identifying the same species of clam shrimp. Since then it has become a little bit more unified by culture, but still varies greatly from field of science to field of science. One of the goals of Konstans’s research is to integrate fossilized clam shrimp into the records and the same way dinosaurs are recorded.
“Before this research there were different schools of thought on clam shrimp shells, one guy back in the 1980s basically said we should ignore the fossilized clam shrimp entirely and put them all into one category,” added Konstans. “Which was very wrong, because there wasn’t just one species of clam shrimp.”
As of today, there are approximately 40 different known species of clam shrimp and for his research Konstans looked at 17 species. For his process, he would take the specimen and coat it in a special metal that would reflect the electrons from the microscope to help brighten and show detail in the photo. Pictures were then taken of the shell from different angles and distances to compare the ornamentation patterns.
Along with looking at the differences in shell patterns, the location of the shell was also a big factor in helping to identify these species. Konstans conducted his research with the help of his University Professor Dr. Thomas A. Hegna. His professor then asked him to accompany him on his trip to the city of Sha Tin in Hong Kong. There he attended the annual meeting of the Crustacean Society in May and set up a poster to present his research for a few hours on the first day.
Along with attending the conference, Dr. Hegna is also helping to get their research published in a magazine titled Zoological Studies to help continue Konstans’s goal of becoming a paleontologist.
“He has been a huge help in me pursuing my goal of eventually becoming an actual paleontologist, which is what I want to do,” said Konstans. “Having a published paper is huge in your undergrad years. It is very helpful not only by looking good on a resume, but for getting scholarships, getting accepted into grad school and ultimately getting my PhD.”
Publishing his work means that it can also be used as a resource to reference for future projects.
While getting his work published would help Konstans excel his future in paleontology, he also hopes it can be used to open doors for future people identifying species of clam shrimp or adapted to be used on any species with a shell.
Konstans feels that through the examination of 17 different types of clam shrimp species, he has good grounds to prove that shells can be used for identification. But to ensure his data is accurate he plans to examine every type of known species.
“We only had access to 17 species but what we are going to do is broaden our research. So we can make sure its 100 percent true we need to look at each species, which is going to take some time,” explained Konstans
This was all preliminary research for Konstans’s next project which he will be starting in a couple weeks when the next semester of classes begins. The first part was more of taking pictures and observations and the next step is going to be acting on that. Looking at what is causing these patterns, why, how, environment factors and coming up with theories.
While Konstans has been working very hard on his research, he is very grateful for the opportunities he has received and has enjoyed every second of it.
“I am very thankful for my professor Dr. Hegna for giving me this excellent opportunity to have this amazing experience as a freshman. I actually have real experience in the field, an idea of what my future as a paleontologist is going to be like. And it has reinforced that I really enjoy it and love doing it,” said Konstans.


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