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13-Year Old Designs Revolutionary New Solar Power Collector

Aidan Dwyer, 13, discovered that tree branches are arranged according to the Fibonacci sequence. Now this has been known since the Eighteenth Century, but Aidan arrived at that conclusion through his own observations. He speculated that trees evolved into this pattern because it presents an efficient means of acquiring solar energy. If so, could he built an efficient solar energy collector in the same pattern? The answer was a definite 'yes', and his efforts have led to a new type of solar power collector:

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.[...]

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.

http://www.popsci.com/technology/article/2011-08/13-year-old-designs-breakthrough-solar-array-based-fibonacci-sequence | Photos: Young Naturalist Awards

No to be too harsh, the kid is after all only 13 but this "experiment" is completely bogus.

His observations on actual energy output is completely wrong, his math is wonky, and the conclusions he's drawn are not only wrong, not only against common sense, but are UNPROVABLE in any scientific way.

There is no WAY (and that's backed by science, physics, electromechanics, and math) that a non-optimal focused solar panel will generator (i.e convert) more power then one that's directly focused to maximize the exposure to sunlight.

The kid bases most of his observations on measuring the energy output WRONG. He measures voltage in a load-less environment. Solar cells have an almost consistent voltage no matter what the output (i.e. independent of power). Solar cells deliver a semiconductor-esque non-linear Current-Voltage curve.

So what he measured, and then based his conclusions on is junk data. It has nothing to do with the actual power conversion of the two types of solar panels (one flat panel, 45 degrees, conventional array, and one "big new discovery" non-optimal "mystery of Fibonacci" magic tree array.

It's expected that the popular press be way too stupid to understand the science, but the kids science teacher/adviser should have spotted the glaring errors in the kids ASSUMPTIONS (not proof) and reigned him in.

Now both the kid and anyone that has "gushed" over this "vast new discovery" just plain looks stupid.

Geesh people, learn some basic science.
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I also wondered if he's homeschooled.

I have mixed feelings about his project, which I read on http://www.amnh.org/nationalcenter/youngnaturalistawards/2011/aidan.html.

Basically I think it's an OK project for a 13 year old, and probably much more interesting than anything else you'd find in a science fair. He wove a good background story, and I have no idea if he just copied Eden Full's project of 5 years ago - http://apps.ysf-fsj.ca/virtualcwsf/projectdetails.php?id=583&switchlanguage=en - winner of over CAN\$4,000 in prizes - or genuinely came up with it himself.

But there are fundamental improvements that should be/have been made, and yes, his science adviser really should have picked up on them.

Measuring the power output would have been better, but voltage is much easier to measure accurately, and he's only 13. I think Vonskippy has said enough about that.

My main problem with it is the experiment he ran doesn't show the Fibonacci Series has anything at all to do with the tree performing better. He seems to have missed the point of what a control is for. A meaningful experiment would have pitted a randomly arranged tree against a Fibonacci arranged tree, with all the leaves at the same angles (to show it's only the Fibonacci spacing making a difference), or a flat array against a convex array that had panels pointing at a wider portion of the sky (a flat array will only be optimal at one time of the day, for one part of the year).

And there are questions that remain unanswered. Why does the tree look like it has twice as many solar cells? How did he decide what angle at which to place the cells? Did he try it in a location which didn't have a big diffuse reflector (the house wall) lending assistance to just one of the solar panel arrays? [Facepalm.]

It's hard doing the perfect experiment when you're 13.
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