Technological breakthroughs in communications, energy, bio-medicine and physics continues at a dizzying pace. And for those that worry (including some in the federal government) that the U.S. may lose its technological leadership in the future, the youngest generation is proving that concern unfounded.
The latest teenager to wow the world of science is 13-year-old Aidan Dwyer from Long Island, New York—a young man who's made a startling advance in the burgeoning field of solar energy.
Dwyer spoke about his discovery that has applications for solar panels at a recent PopTech conference.
"My design is like a tree," he told CNN, "but instead of having leaves it has solar panels at the ends (of the branches)."
It's not surprising that Dwyer's idea sprang from observing trees, as the idea popped into his head one day while he was out strolling through woods.
The way trees—or any plant—convert sunlight into energy is through the process of photosynthesis. Solar panels work by converting photon energy into usable electricity. Yet theoretically, the light-gathering proves is the same, so the physical structure of light-gathering panels should be enhanced by designing them in a configuration that mimics a tree's branches and its leaves.
Dwyer told CNN that solar panels should be more efficient by following the intrinsic mathematics of tree branches. Engineering structures similar to trees—with panels instead of leaves—would make solar power installations as much as 20 to 50 percent more efficient. Re-engineering solar arrays like trees will also boost the efficiency of solar collectors that operate in regions that are often cloudy or have a topography that lends itself to lower light conditions.
Creating a spiral design, Dwyer set about to see if his theory worked. To his surprise it did. The prototype he constructed significantly out-performed flat solar panels. His research revealed that the spiral model captured as much as 2.5 more hours of sunlight.
Cnn notes: "…this new design proved effective in a multitude of other ways. It has the ability to collect sunlight when the sun is lower in the sky. It takes up less room in urban areas where space is tight, its effectiveness isn’t reduced by shadows and it doesn’t collect the rain, dirt or snow that flat panels tend to do."
The discovery led the 13-year-old into collaborating with various research organizations, among them the Resilience Research Center at Wisconsin's University of Madison.
A short bio about Dwyer and his remarkable achievement is featured at PopTech's website. It observes in part that he "...was one of twelve students to receive the 2011 Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History in New York for creating an innovative approach to collecting sunlight in photovoltaic arrays. Dwyer’s investigation into the mathematical relationship of the arrangement of branches and leaves in deciduous trees led to his discovery that these species utilized the Fibonacci Sequence in their branch and leaf design. Dwyer transformed this organic concept into a photovoltaic array based upon the Fibonacci pattern of an oak tree…"
Dwyer's discovery and the important applications it has for the future of alternative energy make him one of the newest members of America's teenage innovators are shaping the future with their ideas and keeping America the leaser in astonishing new technologies.
Late in 2011, 17-year-old Angela Zhang amazed scientists by creating a nanoparticle that kills cancer stem cells. Dr. Tejal Desai, Professor, Department of Bioengineering and Therapeutic Sciences, University of California, San Francisco observed that, "Angela created a nanoparticle that is like a Swiss army knife of cancer treatment. She showed great creativity and initiative in designing a nanoparticle system that can be triggered to release drugs at the site of the tumor while also allowing for non-invasive imaging. Her work is an important step in developing new approaches to the therapeutic targeting of tumors via nanotechnology."
Just months after that achievement, Clara Lazen a 10-year-old student at the Border Star Montessori School in Kansas City, created a new molecule with properties can store energy in new ways.
Aidan Dwyer's speech at the PopTech Conference can be viewed here.