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13 Year Old Makes Solar Panel Breakthrough By Mimicking Nature, Or Does He?

Posted on the 23 August 2011 by 2ndgreenrevolution @2ndgreenrev

13 Year Old Makes Solar Panel Breakthrough By Mimicking Nature, Or Does He?

Taking a page from Mother Nature’s instruction book, a young and curious student from New York has built a small tree-shaped solar array (we’ve featured leaf shaped solar panels on the site before) that won him the American Museum of Natural History’s 2011 Young Naturalist Award. You can read his full essay here.

In short, Aidan Dwyer figured that trees must be pretty good at soaking up sunlight since they use photosynthesis to live and grow. Looking at various patterns in trees and researching more about the branches and leaves led him to the realization that tree branches match the Fibonacci sequence, a mathematical pattern found in nature. In a great burst of biomimicry, he then followed through on his hunch and built a small array to test his hypothesis that such a solar arrangement would excel at gathering solar energy.

I designed and built my own test model, copying the Fibonacci pattern of an oak tree. I studied my results with the compass tool and figured out the branch angles. The pattern was about 137 degrees and the Fibonacci sequence was 2/5. Then I built a model using this pattern from PVC tubing. 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. The entire design copied the pattern of an oak tree as closely as possible.

During periods of low sunlight, the solar tree generated up to 50% more power than the traditional solar model. The various angles of the leaves on the solar tree help capture rays even if the sun is hanging low in the sky.

Regardless of recent claims that his “discovery” is nothing new, the curiosity and dedication Aidan showed in performing his experiment is refreshing and should be praised, regardless of outcome. After all, that is the beauty of peer review: an idea, experiment, and result get challenged amid further study and verification by others in the community. If not clearly discarded or confirmed, the experiment and its result is at least out there for others to study and build upon. Knowledge can be gained through scientists’ pursuits whether an experiment is upheld or if it isn’t. It’s taking the initiative to experiment that is important.


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