Plenty of us head into the woods to find inspiration. Aidan Dwyer, 13, went to the woods and had a eureka moment that could be a major breakthrough in solar panel design.
On a bleak winter hiking trip to the Catskill Mountains, the 7th-grader from New York noticed a pattern among tree branches, and determined (as naturalist Charles Bonnet did in 1754) that the pattern represented the Fibonacci sequence of numbers. Aidan wondered why, and figured it had something to do with photosynthesis.
In a pretty innovative experiment, this intrepid young scientist set about duplicating an oak tree, comparing its sunlight-capturing abilities to a traditional rooftop solar panel array. Guess what he found?
First he determined the ratios representing the spiral pattern of the leaves and branches on an oak tree, using a cylindrical double-protractor tool of his own design. Then he copied the pattern using a computer program, and built an oak tree-shaped solar array out of PVC pipe. He next built a flat-panel array mounted at 45 degrees, like a typical home rooftop array, and attached data loggers to each model to monitor voltage.
You can read Aidan's award-winning essay here, which walks you through his experiment design and his results. But the short story is that his tree design generated much more electricity — especially during the winter solstice, when the sun is at its lowest point in the sky. At that point, the tree design generated 50 percent more power, without any adjustments to its declination angle.
He determined the tree's Fibonacci pattern allowed some solar panels to collect sunlight even if others were in shade, and prevented branches on a tree from shading other branches.
Now Aidan is studying other tree species and improving his PVC model to determine how it could be used to make more efficient solar arrays. He's applied for a patent, too. Aidan's design won him a 2011 Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History. Not to mention the admiration of anyone who has tried to get a kid to appreciate nature.
Great article. It's amazing what a fresh look from a smart kid can do!
Brilliant idea kid. Really amazing work. Now design one that we could use on Mars, and we'll have forests of them up there.
now to put the panels on a heat molding plastic that will bend away from the sun, moving the panel towards it (like a sunflower)
Fibonacci sequence = the Truth!
Nice work...hats off to young Mr.Dwyer
Excellent article well done young man, that's what we need in this world!
"Aidan wondered why, and figured it had something to do with photosynthesis."
That is his first mistake, obviously God created them that way. Now stop trying to solve life’s mysteries and start praising God already.
Your sarcasm is unwarranted, dman1191. If there were some religious nutjob on here saying that, even I would berate them, but there's nothing of the kind.
I welcome this kind of study. A scientist who happens to believe in God won't just dismiss all study of Creation. A real scientist asks, "How/why is it like this?" regardless of how they believe it got there, whether by processes of natural selection or by the programming of an all-powerful God.
Anyone else notice there are more PV panels on the 'tree'?
Aiden you are a genius! Keep up the good work, it's because of people like you our technology keeps getting better. And what better way to improve our tech then to emulate nature. Most of the time nature gets it right and is incredibly efficient, through millions of years of evolution.
I believe there are more panels on the other side of that "rooftop." Granted, against the side of the house is probably not optimal for either design!
Not bad... not bad at all!
I think Aidans "Heureka!" moment illustrates in no uncertain terms why we must teach our kids in a multitude of disciplines, if we want them to be truly innovative. In Aidans case, the seeds to his insight have obviously been some knowledge in biology, some understanding for mathematics and a love for geometry. Sprinkle this with with the "pixie dust" of artistic grasp for interpreting visual geometry, and there you go.
As an multi-discipline engineer, I look with dismay at how many parents push their young to become very specialized at an early age.
Obviously, Aidan has a very good skill set from the beginning!
Godspeed! And I hope that I meet you, Aidan, on the field (in engineering)!
@everyone that bashed dman1191
Gey a life people he was making a joke...the joke was actually indirectly praising the kid for being smarter than oh a few hundred years of scientist not figuring out something so simply genius....all you "tools" that are spreading the hate go get a life on another site please. As for this kid well done BRO!! Also Lawyer up cuz you are gonna need it when the companys start coming at you because they "already though of this" and you "stole there idea" even though they didn't and you didn't. We wish you the best of luck friend.
Well he did mention running this test several times in different locations..
But it is very unclear if this was actually an accurate comparison. All we have are these pictures, and his description in his essay, "In place of leaves, I used PV solar panels hooked up in series that produced up to 1/2 volt, so the peak output of the model was 5 volts." So from that I would think there are supposed to be 10 PV panels on each. Further, he has a bar graph showing a comparison and gets 5.25v from the tree. How is that possible with a theoretical max of 5v?
He has a lot of other questionable statements as well:
"tree design takes up less space"
-- again looks like it takes up more to me if by 'space' he means volume. And if he means surface area his 'rooftop' design could be a lot smaller...
"Shade and bad weather like snow don't hurt it because the panels are not flat"
-- hahaha. The PV panels sure look flat (actually they are made to an incredibly low tolerance). Or does he mean they aren't level? or maybe that they are not at 45deg? Oh, and snow doesn't stick to trees? We don't even know how he decided to mount the panels, only the branches.
just think if we could start to emulate nature more often. this kid is a godsend. and im guessing he came up with this idea because his parents taught him right. imagine there being millions of these set up world wide. we could have clean/infinite energy for everyone around the globe.
Great job Aidan. I do wonder a bit however about the number of panels on each array:
1) Were they the same, or did they at least have the same theoretical power capacity?
2) Shouldn't you have used power as a measured parameter rather than volts?
3) The house behind the tree array in the picture was a diffuse reflector, which would have provided power to the tree array even when the sun wasn't at the "proper" (normal) angle. That location favors the "randomly" oriented panels.
4) Normally, a solar power array would not be installed where shade could fall on the panels (it's not good for the large panels to have uneven lighting). Varying shade during the day favors the "randomly" oriented panels.
Still, that was an excellent project!
That's amazing. Makes me feel like a moron.
It is sort of interesting, but I'm not sure how practical. One reason solar panels are mounted the way they are is because of wind, not to mention the neighbors complaining about how ugly they look. If you start throwing up "trees" from the top of your roof you are going to have both design issues and social issues. Plus this is this only bests a static design, which of course is static for the reason or wind, cost, looks, ... If you had a solar array that tracked the sun it would be much better then both designs.
@dmatvla I also question his methodology. That area looks shaded and his traditional panels are at a lower level than the tree ones. I would not be surprised if some arrangement like his is actually superior if you are using solar panels in the woods where they are competing with trees for light but I think they would fail if used in a clearing or any other area where they are not shaded.
Quick! Design one in the shape of crabgrass! Very impressive work.
WTG Aidan! Now someone FUND this kid already!
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Simple minds produce simple things; this young man's mind is complex and very workable. Fantastic job young man. I also hope to see you in the engineering field one day.
Solar power cheaper then coal on the house making homes cheaper and bigger is the right focus point, and would turn our housing and economic crisis around by making our glut of larger homes more affordable. It would make, not just sustainable, but more fuel available to people in the world with out nuclear proliferation or carbon emissions. The solar home is a focal point that deserves an Xprize initiative. I guarantee that this problem can be solved in less than a decade if we focus an Xprize like initiative to it.
A similar study was done 5 years ago by another 13-year old:
The media has the wrong end of the stick here; the experiment is flawed. Aidan measured voltage not power...they're not the same thing. Kudos to Aidan for designing a complex experiment, and I hope he refines the experiment more, as it seems there *could* be something in this.
I did a more in-depth write up of this at http://www.philgra.org/home/fibonacci-trees-and-solar-power
Meteoric launch - definitely a kid seeking the brilliant, radiant, and dazzling. Look at "U.S. Meteorological Remote Weather Station Tree Forest Battery-powered Operations". Your marketable use: solar panel outside, the Christmas tree inside; an alternative approach to being green. He he he!
Alas, this youngster is observant, but his analysis is not correct. As an optical silicon engineer, the physics don't support his conclusion. This should have been caught early on.
This shows a sad reality. Reporters and editors don't give a **** about truth or accuracy, as long as it gets their rag/blog viewed! As an engineer who has written for technical journals, I've seen this even in technical publications. Publicly ridicule a 13 year old? "Who cares, as long as it gets attention to us!"
hey Mr.dam 1191 piss of sh*t this is not a place for religious people,such as you ass face.is because of you people that we have war in this world i don't care if you are Moslem or buda or what ever you wana call it,people are thinking and putting there time,how to make this life and this world a better place and you people think about who is prying who is not paying,how to kill other people why cuz they are not like you mother ******* ,*****suckers.go shove bomb in your *** blow your self with your family you will do this world a big favor **** head.
Pop Sci totally disappointed me with this article. I thought they would have more scientific knowledge than to publish something like this.
The kid's idea was great and he has the inquisitive nature that will make him a great scientist. Unfortunately, his findings do not support his conclusion. Power is defined as voltage times current. He only measured voltage (without a load, e.g. lightbulb, I might add). For solar cells current is in no way linearly related to voltage. So he has only measured half the battle. He can't rightfully conclude that he'll make more power with the solar tree. Anyone with a basic physics background should be able to see this.
There are more intricate ways to prove that he's completely wrong, but this isn't the place for that.
You are just as big a tool as dman1911. The sarcasm was unwarranted, unwanted and inappropriate. It wasns't even remotely funny sarcasm. It was akin to what an 11 year old would write. Meanwhile the adults are more concerned with the content of the article and the genius this kid displays at an early age, while dman1911 trolled the forum.
Yup as others have said, this kid is unfortunately debunked but kudos nonetheless to the kid. I didn't read the kid's essay but several solar engineers reviewed it and said that results were inconclusive and that the setup was sub-optimal.