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Inspired by Oak Trees, 13-Year-Old Designs a Solar Array

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Most 13-year-olds would be more interested in running amok on a hiking trip, but not Aidan Dwyer.

The inventive seventh grader noticed the patterns found in oak trees that lined New York’s Catskill Mountains, inspiring him to design and build a tree-shaped solar panel array that makes more electricity and collects more sunlight than traditional devices.

While looking up at the oak trees, Dwyer realized they had branches that matched the Fibonacci pattern. He hypothesized this was to let trees collect more sunlight for photosynthesis more efficiently, and proceeded to build a solar array in the shape of oak branches to test out his theory.

“The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model,” he wrote in an essay detailing his process. “The tree design made 20% more electricity and collected two-and-a-half 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,” he added.

Compared to regular flat-panel arrays, Dwyer’s design doesn’t need to be built in a spot that has a full southern view, isn’t affected by shade and bad weather and, in his own words, “looks nicer because it looks like a tree”.

Dwyer was awarded the 2011 Young Naturalist award from the American Museum of Natural History for his inventive effort.

[via AMNH]
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