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Power Education Math Patents Hardware Science

13-Year-Old Uses Fibonacci Sequence For Solar Power Breakthrough 410

Posted by Soulskill
from the one-one-two-three-five-eureka dept.
An anonymous reader tips news of 7th grader Aidan Dwyer, who used phyllotaxis — the way leaves are arranged on plant stems in nature — as inspiration to arrange an array of solar panels in a way that generates 20-50% more energy than a uniform, flat panel array. Aidan wrote, "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. ... 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!"His work earned him a Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History and a provisional patent on the design.
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13-Year-Old Uses Fibonacci Sequence For Solar Power Breakthrough

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  • Makes sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by AngryDeuce (2205124) on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:47AM (#37140876)
    After all, it stands to reason that nature would have already worked out the most efficient way to collect solar energy eons ago.
  • by asto21 (1797450) on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:48AM (#37140886)
    The two aren't mutually exclusive!
  • by fiordhraoi (1097731) on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:54AM (#37140968)
    Somehow I doubt that the American Museum of Natural History missed that, after reviewing him for a rather prestigious award for someone his age. There's most probably something we can't see from the picture alone, or the discrepancy was accounted for in the math.
  • by gatkinso (15975) on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:54AM (#37140970)

    Well, if you look at the photos, he WAS outside much of the time!

  • Re:Makes sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:54AM (#37140974)

    From TFS

    His work earned him a Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History and a provisional patent on the design.

    Patenting natures design, anyone else thinks that something is wrong here?

  • by Scutter (18425) on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:56AM (#37140992) Journal

    You can't see the back side of the flat array. I bet there's another ten on the other side. I also think there are probably 20 on the tree, not 18. I can't see the whole tree clearly enough to get an accurate count. It seems to me that a young man smart enough to work out a design like this would not overlook something so simple as the number of cells in use during his experiment and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when the only proof against him is a single incomplete photo.

  • by Ed Bugg (2024) on Friday August 19, 2011 @07:59AM (#37141038)

    If you check that image, his tree model was able to pack an increase of 80% cells in 50% of the surface area he placed in the normal flat panel model. The tree model has the advantage that it doesn't have to rotate in order to achieve direct sunlight during the day/year. So it's inventive in his being able to achieve cell density that other people haven't seemly taken advantage of as of yet.

  • Re:Makes sense... (Score:4, Insightful)

    by lvangool (1393983) on Friday August 19, 2011 @08:01AM (#37141066)
    Actually, not really, no. If it was this obvious, he wouldn't be the first guy to think of this in 30 years to think of it. Think of it this way: a patent on practical nuclear fusion will not be denied because the stars came up with it first.
  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 19, 2011 @08:05AM (#37141104)

    How many of you took time at the tender age of 13 to study leaf patterns on trees to figure out how best to capture sunlight and harness it for electricity? You can crap on his science all you want, but kids like this young man inspire me and give me hope that we aren't raising a bunch of video-game addicted sluggards who take everything for granted. Hooray for science and kids who want to pursue it! We want to encourage this behavior, not nit-pick him for possible flaws in research methodology.

  • Re:Makes sense... (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward on Friday August 19, 2011 @08:27AM (#37141430)

    That does look like prior _art_, but not like prior _science_. The Fibonacci-tree is not about some random and good-looking arrangement of the solar panels to make a cool gadget to charge your iphone. It is about the exact, calculated arrangement of those panels to increase the efficiency.

  • Re:Makes sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by omnichad (1198475) on Friday August 19, 2011 @08:30AM (#37141474) Homepage

    Sure, why not - never stopped Monsanto....

  • Re:Damn straight! (Score:3, Insightful)

    by Moryath (553296) on Friday August 19, 2011 @08:36AM (#37141554)

    Sigh.

    If you look at his methodology, it's fundamentally flawed. RTFA and do your own analysis if you want.

    During the "peak times" for his model, the flat arrangement was maxed out on production. Lots of lost energy. His "extended time of collection" is the sole basis for his supposed power-collection increases on the tree-like setup.

    If you were to do the same experiment with PV cells that didn't max out, you'd find far superior collection from that arrangement. His "power gain" is an artifact of clipping, nothing more.

    Again, FTFA: When a PV array is shaded by another object, like a tree or a house, the solar panels get backed up with electrons like cars in a traffic jam, and the current drops - UNDERSTANDING ELECTRICITY FAIL. Also, this is why people don't put their solar panels in the shade path of trees and houses.

    Shade and bad weather like snow don't hurt it because the panels are not flat. - Somebody has never lived anywhere that has a real winter and seen snow-covered trees, be they deciduous or conifer or gynosperm. Deciduous trees don't gather sunlight during the winter, they DROP their leaves and enter a state similar to hibernation. That's why we have this word "deciduous [reference.com]" to describe them.

    He sounds like a bright enough kid. But he's a kid. And it's sad that he's been given an award for some really shoddily conducted "research" by an organization that has no idea what the fuck they are talking about when it comes to power production, and were just happy someone photogenic published something cutesy about trees.

  • by jackbird (721605) on Friday August 19, 2011 @08:47AM (#37141724)

    I've never understood this "buy the patent and bury it" meme. For one thing, if something is patented, it's published. Period. For another, patents expire. We should be neck-deep in 100 MPG carbuerators by now.

  • Re:Makes sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by GameMaster (148118) on Friday August 19, 2011 @08:49AM (#37141764)

    Uh, that's a nice picture but there's a lot more to what the kid did than make a diorama of a tree and glue solar panels to it instead of leaves. What you posted is a nice looking pic but there is no additional info. As far as I can tell, it's just an ipod/iphone solar charger with an aesthetically pleasing design. Is there anything to suggest that the designers of the charger in the pic thought to reproduce the phyllotaxis as a way of increasing efficiency? That's the, potentially, patentable part about the kid's work, not the fact that he made it "look like a tree".

  • Re:Makes sense... (Score:5, Insightful)

    by edumacator (910819) on Friday August 19, 2011 @09:07AM (#37142010)

    You did notice the fact that he is in the seventh grade right?

An inclined plane is a slope up. -- Willard Espy, "An Almanac of Words at Play"

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