Teenager + Fibonacci = New Hope For Solar Energy

Aidan Dwyer

13-year-old Aidan Dwyer developed a new way to collect solar energy. Photo: Claudio Papapietro for The Wall Street Journal

Welcome to my first blog of 2012.

I would like to start the New Year with some hope.

Hope that we experience when we look at the young generation (no—not that one, even younger):

A report in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal (“A Youngster’s Bright Idea Is Something New Under the Sun“) reports on a 13-year old teenager who was curious enough to study the patterns of trees’ branching and apply this to a setup for solar panels.

Wired.com also reported on this subject (Teen Taps Into Power of Fibonacci to Harness the Sun | GeekDad | Wired.com):

“After a hike in the Catskill Mountains last winter, 13-year-old Aidan Dwyer noticed the patterns in the branches of trees. Investigation led him to an important insight about how the shape of the branches can be used by the tree to optimize the amount of light collected for photosynthesis. Some supplies and several sunrises later, he had an award-winning experimental design to improve the harvesting of solar power.

“Applying the Fibonacci sequence — where each number is equal to the sum of its two predecessors — Aidan crafted a bio-inspired design for a solar panel array. The result was a solution that claims to produce more power than a uniform array of solar cells:

Energy gain with tree design for solar panels

Aidan Dwyer graphed his results (source: American Museum of Natural History)

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!

“Aidan wrote an essay, with citations, reflecting on his experiment and submitted it to American Museum of Natural History. Aidan was one of a dozen winners in their most recent Young Naturalists competition, an annual research-based contest for students from grades 7 to 12. Each submission consists of an essay reporting on a scientific experiment, which is reviewed by a panel of judges (environmentalists, scientists and educators). Participants receive feedback on both strengths and weaknesses of their work, with two selected from each grade to win cash prizes and in invitation to the Museum.”

If you have seven minutes it is worth to watch the video:

I find it astonishing that from all those solar energy specialists no one had this idea before. We seem (at least in solar energy) to follow the “the world is flat” paradigm (or at least the panels are flat).

It needs a boy to walk through a forest wondering and pondering on the bifurcation of the branches of trees.

Do you know of similar examples where we can learn from the young?

About Hellmuth Broda

Independent Information and Communications Technology Strategist with an interest in the construction sites between business, society and technology. http://www.hellmuthbroda.com
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