13 Year Old Uses Fibonacci Sequence to Make Solar Energy Breakthrough
2011-08-21 0:00

By Max Eddy | Geekosystem.com

While walking through a forest in the winter, 7th grader Aidan Dwyer thought he saw a pattern in the way leaves and limbs grew from trees. Some photography, measurements, and investigating the work of other naturalists confirmed that plants produce new growth following a Fibonacci sequence.

Aidan Dwyer’s Experiment

This pattern, where the previous numbers are added together to make the next number in sequence (1+1=2, 2+1=3, 3+2=5, 5+3=8, etc.), and its corresponding golden ratio have been observed all over the nature world. This got Dwyer thinking about why trees grew in this way, and if there was an evolutionary advantage in doing so. He knew that trees, like all plants, use their leaves to photosynthesize and decided to make that the focus of his investigation.

To do so, he constructed a “tree” using the sequence of leaves found on an oak tree. Except on his tree, Dwyer placed photovoltaic cells instead of leaves. He compared the amount of energy collected by his tree against a normal, flat array of solar cells. His results may surprise you:

The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model. The tree design made 20% more electricity and collected 2 1/2 more hours of sunlight during the day. But the most interesting results were in December, when the Sun was at its lowest point in the sky. The tree design made 50% more electricity, and the collection time of sunlight was up to 50% longer!

Whether Dwyer’s work is actually “groundbreaking” is probably open for debate. After all, scientists have been observing and investigating plants for centuries. However, his work is certainly impressive and has attracted some attention towards using a design drawn from nature to gather energy more efficiently. As much as it captures power, it also captures the imagination. As impressive as vast solar arrays in the desert are, I would much rather walk through a powerplant forest made of Dwyer’s trees. Not bad for a 13-year old.

Article from: geekosystem.com

Blog Debunks 13-Year-Old Scientist’s Solar Power Breakthrough
By Ujala Sehgal | TheAtlanticWire.com

A 13-year-old who, observing trees, takes it upon himself to read up on the Fibonacci series and propose a way to better utilize solar energy is the feel-good story at its finest. So naturally, media outlets including us have been sharing the tale of seventh grader Aidan Dwyer’s solar power "breakthrough" science project. But according to the blog The Capacity Factor, the media has been getting way ahead of itself.

In short, here is the story of young Dwyer’s science finding: He was observing trees, and noticed how the branches held a spiral pattern, and wondered what would be the use of that. Looking at the Fibonacci series, which describes spirals, he also noticed that tree leaves adhered to the spiral sequence. This led him to propose arranging solar panels like oak trees leaves, a manner which would be 20 to 50 percent more efficient, energy-wise. The American Museum of Natural History rewarded him with a Young Naturalist award.

So far, so great. But The Capacity Factor, clearly unhappy with its role of the Grinch who must squash an adolescent’s science discovery, has written a post called "In which hopelessly inept journalists reduce me to having to debunk a school science project." (The post as of this moment is temporarily unavailable, though we link to the cache.) The post indicates about Dwyer’s discovery: "This is, I’m sad to say, clear nonsense. I’ll take this in two parts: one, why his experiment is, unfortunately, completely broken (sorry again). Two, why the imagined result is impossible nonsense."

[...]

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