When I was 13 I was smoking cigarettes I'd found on the ground and playing Super Nintendo like it was my life's work. This kid discovered a way to draw 20-50% more power from solar cells. He is way cooler.
7th grader Aidan Dwyer was walking in the woods during the winter, and looking up, he noticed something about the bare branches above him. They didn't appear to be growing randomly. So he took some measurements of the angles of the branches, crunched some numbers, and wouldn't you know it, he found that the ubiquitous Fibonacci Sequence was behind it all. He suspected there was a reason behind this. That trees were using this pattern to gather more light.
So he did an experiment. Using the same number of solar cells, he built two working models. One was a traditional, flat array will all of the panels on a single plane. The other used the Fibonacci Sequence to create the same spiraled pattern he observed in the trees. The results? The little man himself reports:
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!"
Did you hear that? All of the smart-guys in the country who spent their time trying to make solar power more efficient were just outsmarted by a thirteen-year-old and a tree. You can read Aiden's extremely well-written full-report here. Aiden just won the Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History. It's kids like this that make me think that just maaaaaybe this country isn't so screwed after all. [American Museum of Natural History via Inhabitat]
Update: Controversy! So, over the weekend a blogger posted a sometime that supposedly debunked Aiden's design. Here are a couple points to consider:
The debunking blogger in question removed his post very shortly after he posted it. Why, we don't know, though I suspect he found inaccuracies in his own post. For one, I noticed that he didn't take into account the fact that Aiden's design collected 2.5 hours more sunlight in October and 50% more in December. Anyway, sites have been posting corrections left and right, but everyone has been linking to Google's webcache of the old post, which seems weird to me. We've reached out to the blogger in question and to some other experts in the field, and we'll update if there's anything worth mentioning.
In the meantime, I would remind some commenters that this is a 13-year-old we're talking about here. Whether or not you agree with his findings, please don't be a dick. Thanks.