Northport, N.Y. 13-year-old Aidan Dwyer has used the Fibonacci sequence to devise a more efficient way to collect solar energy, earning himself a provisional U.S. patent and interest from “entities” apparently eager to explore commercializing his innovation.
“The elegant tree design out-performed the flat panel array during winter exposure, when the sun is at its lowest point, by up to 50 percent,” reports the Northport Patch.
Aidan explains his process on a webpage at the American Museum of Natural History, which recently named him one of its Young Naturalist Award winners for 2011.
Wikipedia explains that in 1202, mathematician Leonardo of Pisa, known as Fibonacci, published Liber Abaci which laid out the sequence. Though described previously by Indian mathematicians, Fibonacci introduced the concept to Western society.
TreeHugger writes: Briefly, the Fibonacci sequence starts with the numbers 0 and 1, each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two – 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13…. These numbers, when put in ratios, happen to show up in the patterns of branches and leaves on trees.
Aidan, having been mesmerized by tree-branch patterns during a winter hike in the Catskills, sought to investigate why.
His hunch: “I knew that branches and leaves collected sunlight for photosynthesis, so my next experiments investigated if the Fibonacci pattern helped.”
One thing led to another, and before you know it, this kid, three years from being eligible for a driver’s license, had built a tree-like stand affixed with small solar panels in the Fibonacci pattern. He compared its ability to collect sunlight to a flat-panel collector. And Nature won.
Summing up his research and imagining the possibilities, Aidan wrote: “The tree design takes up less room than flat-panel arrays and works in spots that don’t have a full southern view. It collects more sunlight in winter. Shade and bad weather like snow don’t hurt it because the panels are not flat. It even looks nicer because it looks like a tree. A design like this may work better in urban areas where space and direct sunlight can be hard to find.”
Read Aiden’s piece, and see more images: The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees.