He’s A Solar Pioneer, And Barely A Teen

[Editor's Note: An updated story on this, including thoughts on overhyped media coverage and problems with Dwyer's work - is here.]

One would be excused for suspecting that Aidan Dwyer, said to be 13, is in fact a small, very young-looking, 37-year-old college-educated con-man of the highest order. Such is not the case though for what the young Long Island lad has accomplished in a feat typically associated with much older individuals. As reported on the Patch community website out of Northport, N.Y., Aidan 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.

And you’re wondering what the Fibonacci sequence is. Aidan explains it all on a page on the website of the American Museum of Natural History, which recently named him one of its Young Naturalist Award winners for 2011. The awards go to students from middle school through high school who have investigated questions they have in the areas of biology, Earth science, ecology and astronomy.

Young Naturalist Award winner, Aidan Dwyer

image via American Museum of Natural History

So back to the Fibonacci sequence: Starting 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, happens 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.”

Young Naturalist Award winner, Aidan Dwyer

image via American Museum of Natural History

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.”

Sports columnist, newspaper desk guy, website managing editor, wine-industry PR specialist, freelance writer—Pete Danko’s career in media has covered a lot of terrain. The constant along the way has been a fierce dedication to knowing the story and getting it right. Danko's work has appeared in Wired, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.

  • La

    Young ideas for the future of a younger generation. u00a0What could be more invigorating to our environment?u00a0

  • Nissan Wife

    Outstanding.u00a0 I hope more youth take a leading roles in a commitment to studyu00a0alternativeu00a0 clean energy sources.

  • steve

    He’s used 18 cells on the tree and 10 on the flat array. So an increase in 80% in number of cells gives an increase of ’20-50%’ in energy output. I don’t see how this is beneficial.nhttp://globalgreenworld.org/wp-content/plugins/rss-poster/cache/47dab_The-Secret-of-the-Fibonacci-Sequence-in-Trees-3-537×349.jpg

    • CR

      Are there 10 cells on the “dark” side of theu00a0roof’s flat arraynu00a0in the picture? Or only the 10 we can see?

    • Xyz1891

      Cmon, we have lost contact with nature which has all the answers, and then you question his findings!!nit was always obvious that photosynthesis of the leaves was the waynTo make more efficient solar panels, it was only a question of who wouldnMake the breakthrough, a 13 year old boy, brilliant.

  • guest

    Are people really so uneducated that they don’t realize his measurements are entirely meaningless? He measured VOLTAGE on an open circuit. Wtf? He didn’t measure power, or even current. How did he win an award?

  • Anonymous

    Actually, Aiden was completely wrong and his experiment was seriously flawed. But out of everyone involved, he was the only one actually using his brain. So congrats to him. I have written a thorough and easy to understand explanation (you don’t have to feel like you need to be an expert) of why he was wrong in the following blog:http://blog.mrzach.com/2011/08/this-is-where-bad-science-starts/ Enjoy.

  • Jon Starbuck

    Please take this nonsense down. It is so obviously incorrect.u00a0http://www.eco-scams.com/archives/746u00a0

  • Curefx

    It looks like Aidan had a good look at our website – http://www.solarbotanic.com the website is up and running since 2008. We are developing a multi harvesting tree, converting electromagnetic waves from the sun PLUS converting wind energy, sound, heat and rain all in one system. What wonders me is that he is awarded a prize and is given a provisional patent…Hmmm, will contact the patent office right away.nNice try AidannAlex