A teenager is about to change the way we collect sunlight.
Long Island resident Aidan Dwyer is just 13 years old and is already a patented inventor of solar panel arrangements.
On a winter hiking trip, the teen noticed a pattern in the tangled mess of branches above him. Aidan took photos of the branches that "seemed to have a spiral pattern that reached up to the sky." His curiosity quickly led him to investigate "whether there is a secret formula in tree design and whether the purpose of the spiral pattern is to collect sunlight better."
See a photo of Aidan's model here.
When Aidan compared his model's ability to collect sunlight with traditional flat-panels, the one based on tree-growth patterns won, producing 20 per cent more energy than the flat panel arrays. During winter, when sunlight is at its lowest, the tree design outperformed the flat panels by 50 per cent.
"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," Aidan wrote on the website for the American Museum of Natural History, which named him one of its Young Naturalist Award winners for 2011.
His model garnered plenty of interest, with various "entities" seeing the commercial potential of the new technology. The United States Patent and Trademark Office awarded Aidan with a provisional patent for his innovation.
"I'm interested in science because it helps the world," Aiden told Northport's Patch community.
(Photo: Toru Hanai/Reuters)