Dakota Law cradled a small shark as two fellow student researchers leaned in to touch it. Before this summer, Law had never worked in a lab or held a shark. Now she’s done both, thanks to an undergraduate research program geared to students with disabilities.
The rising senior in engineering sciences at Smith College is one of three students studying sharks for eight weeks this summer through the Research Experience for Undergraduates program Accessible Sharks, funded by the National Science Foundation. She worked in the lab of Harvard’s George Lauder. Scientists from Yale University and the University of Florida also took part.
Law, who has an invisible disability, talked about what the experience has meant for her. “I have been very hesitant and, honestly, kind of nervous about both going into the industry or continuing my journey through academia and how my disability might hinder my experience.”
None of that hesitation was evident in late July when Law’s peers in the program visited her in Lauder’s lab, and she showed off that chain catshark — and its denticles. The flat V-shaped shark scales, also known as “skin teeth,” have an enamel coating, dentin layer, pulp cavity, and blood vessels. They are of particular interest to researchers, Lauder included, because they help sharks swim more efficiently by reducing the drag around their bodies.