13-Year-Old's Solar Invention Sparks Debate

Photo: Inhabitat.

What's with the Fibonacci sequence? I hadn't heard about that number sequence since the eighth grade, and now it has suddenly popped up twice in my research over the course of a year. First it was MNN blogger Shea Gunther's cool post about using it to convert miles to kilometers. And now it is the story of a young boy who is using it to rethink solar power as we know it.

The young boy I'm referring to is Aidan Dwyer. Two years ago, when he was just 11 years old, he went hiking in the woods with his parents and he took a good long look at the trees. He wondered why the leaves grew the way they did and wondered if their patterns could somehow be used to improve solar power collection.

With a little research, Aidan found he could use the Fibonacci sequence to imitate the pattern of leaves on a tree. Over the course of the next two years, he built a solar collector with panels arrayed like the leaves on a tree and compared their output to those of a traditional, flat solar panel. He compared measurements and found that his tree structure's numbers were higher.

Excitedly, the now 13-year-old submitted his results to the Young Naturalist Awards, a national contest run by the American Museum of Natural History, and was picked as one of 12 winners.

And that's when the real controversy began. Many scientists first lauded Aidan for his "out-of-the-box" thinking, but there was one little problem with his design: Aidan had measured and compared voltage when what he really needed to calculate was power.

The controversy went viral, catapulting Aidan and his tree structure into the spotlight. Even though his original numbers weren't correct, he has still become a highly sought-after speaker in the field of solar design. In October, Aidan got a standing ovation from more than 500 people at technology convention after discussing his work and touching on the controversy. And he and his family have been invited to the World Future Energy Summit in Abu Dhabi to speak at the event's opening ceremony.

Like a good scientist, Aidan is learning from his mistakes and revamping his experiment's design flaws. He is in the process of collecting more data on his tree structure solar collector and comparing its power output to that of a traditionally designed solar collector. So far, he is optimistic about his design.

Keep your eyes and ears open for news about Aidan Dwyer. He is one young scientist who is sure to continue making headlines.