Pixel Tracker

Monday, February 18 , 2019, 11:00 pm | Fair and Breezy 48º


Santa Barbara Teen Elizabeth Garfinkle Names New Species of Clam

The Garden Street Academy junior works with the Museum of Natural History to research and describe the newly identified Tucetona isabellae

While many high school students are texting their friends, Elizabeth Garfinkle is hard at work in the research labs at the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Elizabeth Garfinkle
Elizabeth Garfinkle

Garfinkle, a junior at Garden Street Academy (San Roque High School) in Santa Barbara, has just achieved an exceptionally rare feat — describing a new species of animal.

In conjunction with Paul Valentich-Scott, a scientist at the Museum of Natural History, Garfinkle has named a new clam in the international journal Zootaxa. It is believed that this is one of the very few times that a high school student has described a new species.

The new animal is a one-inch bittersweet clam from Baja California, Mexico. As one of the authors of the new species, Garfinkle was given the right to choose a name for it.

“I named this shell after a 2-year-old that I babysit and have a close relationship with,” Garfinkle said. As of Monday, it is officially called Tucetona isabellae, a name it will carry for centuries into the future.

In recounting the process of describing the new life form, Garfinkle said, “We had to test if the species was new by comparing it to similar described shells. We took many measurements of the specimens and compared it to known species. We also looked at articles written by other scientists.”

Many surprises unfolded during the research.

Elizabeth Garfinkle named the Tucetona isabellae clam after a child she babysits.
Elizabeth Garfinkle named the Tucetona isabellae clam after a child she babysits. (Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History photo)

“As we were writing the paper, another scientist let us know that he had also discovered the same new species many years ago,” she said. “He let us describe it as new, since he hadn’t worked on it for a long time.”

This scientist, Charles Powell from the U.S. Geological Survey in Menlo Park, further informed Garfinkle that the species was also found in fossil beds in the Imperial Valley of California. The fossils are dated to the Miocene Epoch, about 6 million years ago. So while Garfinkle’s new species has just been described, it has been living in the region for millions of years.

What did Garfinkle like best about the project?

“One of the highlights of the experience was corresponding with scientists from the British Museum and the Smithsonian during my school day,” she said. “It was a once-in-a-lifetime experience that happened by being in the right place at the right time. I didn’t think I would have this opportunity. That part is amazing.”

— Paul Valentich-Scott is the curator of malacology for the Santa Barbara Museum of Natural History.

Talk to Us!

Please take Noozhawk's audience survey to help us understand what you expect — and want — from us. It'll take you just a few minutes. Thank you!

Get Started >

Support Noozhawk Today

You are an important ally in our mission to deliver clear, objective, high-quality professional news reporting for Santa Barbara, Goleta and the rest of Santa Barbara County. Join the Hawks Club today to help keep Noozhawk soaring.

We offer four membership levels: $5 a month, $10 a month, $25 a month or $1 a week. Payments can be made using a credit card, Apple Pay or Google Pay, or click here for information on recurring credit-card payments and a mailing address for checks.

Thank you for your vital support.

Become a Noozhawk Supporter

First name
Last name
Select your monthly membership
Or choose an annual membership

Payment Information

Membership Subscription

You are enrolling in . Thank you for joining the Hawks Club.

Payment Method

Pay by Credit Card:

Mastercard, Visa, American Express, Discover
One click only, please!

Pay with Apple Pay or Google Pay:

Noozhawk partners with Stripe to provide secure invoicing and payments processing.
You may cancel your membership at any time by sending an email to .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

  • Ask
  • Vote
  • Investigate
  • Answer

Noozhawk Asks: What’s Your Question?

Welcome to Noozhawk Asks, a new feature in which you ask the questions, you help decide what Noozhawk investigates, and you work with us to find the answers.

Here’s how it works: You share your questions with us in the nearby box. In some cases, we may work with you to find the answers. In others, we may ask you to vote on your top choices to help us narrow the scope. And we’ll be regularly asking you for your feedback on a specific issue or topic.

We also expect to work together with the reader who asked the winning questions to find the answer together. Noozhawk’s objective is to come at questions from a place of curiosity and openness, and we believe a transparent collaboration is the key to achieve it.

The results of our investigation will be published here in this Noozhawk Asks section. Once or twice a month, we plan to do a review of what was asked and answered.

Thanks for asking!

Click Here to Get Started >

Reader Comments

Noozhawk is no longer accepting reader comments on our articles. Click here for the announcement. Readers are instead invited to submit letters to the editor by emailing them to [email protected]. Please provide your full name and community, as well as contact information for verification purposes only.