Here at Inhabitots we love seeing the creative things that bright young minds come up with -- and we were incredibly impressed to hear that a 13-year-old boy recently came up with a breakthrough discovery for the field of solar energy! While hiking through the Catskills, seventh grader Aidan Dwyer was not snapping and throwing tree branches but studying their tangled pattern high about his head. He came up with a theory for the way that tree branches grow based on the Fibonnacci sequence and tested it by building a miniature solar energy generating tree that produces 20% - 50% more power than a flat solar array. The youngster has earned himself the Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History, a provisional U.S. patent, and lots of phone calls from interested commercial solar companies -- all before the school year begins!
When Aidan noticed the tree branches seemed to have a spiral pattern, he wondered if it was related to how trees collect sunlight. After reading and researching, Aidan found a mathematical similarity in the Fibinacci pattern. This is where two numbers in a series are aded together and the sum becomes the next number in the sequence such as 1+1=2, 2+1=3, 3+2=5, and so on. This sequence has already been noted in other parts of nature such as nautilus shells, sunflower seeds, and falcon flight patterns.
Aidan measured the angles at which branches spread out from trees using a home-made tool made of a plastic tube and two protractors. He then built a test model of an oak tree’s Fibinacci pattern using tiny solar panels instead of leaves. He set it outside next to flat solar panel and collected data for three months — and the results were incredible.
The solar tree made 20% more electricity and collected 2 and a half more hours of sunlight than the flat panel. Even more exciting, when tested in December, the darkest, shortest days of the year, the tree panel performed even better, producing 50% more electricity than the flat panel and collecting 50% more sunlight.
Aidan’s findings are best put in the worlds of the 13 year old himself: “The tree design takes up less room than flat-panel arrays and works in spots that don’t have a full southern view. It collects more sunlight in winter. Shade and bad weather like snow don’t hurt it because the panels are not flat. It even looks nicer because it looks like a tree. A design like this may work better in urban areas where space and direct sunlight can be hard to find.”