Have you ever wondered why trees are such powerhouses at converting sunlight into energy? Those huge, towering trees must have some innate secret that humans just don’t fully understand when it comes to harnessing solar energy, right?

Well, 13-year old Aidan Dwyer asked himself that very question one day while he was on a hike. Since then, Aidan has discovered the secret of trees and how they can efficiently convert sunlight into energy.  Solar + tree = solar tree. But wait, there’s more.

An idea takes root

Through investigation, Aidan realized that trees use a mathematical formula called the Fibonacci Sequence to determine how the tree branches and leaves grow and spiral up. He studied the oak tree, native to New York where he lives, and realized that five branches spiral on the tree twice until it reaches the starting point of the first branch.

This simple mathematical formula explains how the tree tracks the sun throughout the entire day. Since leaves are angled at all directions around the tree, they can efficiently collect sunlight all day long.

Aidan Dwyer
Aidan Dwyer (PopTech 2011)- Image courtesy of PopTech

Using this logic, Aidan was able to create a solar energy collection model based upon the oak tree. He used the Fibonacci Sequence to place the branches on his model, and placed solar panels where leaves would be.

According to Aidan’s results, “The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model. The tree design made 20 percent more electricity and collected 2 1/2 more hours of sunlight during the day.” Not too bad for a 13-year-old’s science project.

The secret of trees

His results and innovative new model for creating solar power led to his becoming a Young Naturalist Award Finalist in 2011. GE is currently featuring his innovation in a short film entitled, “The Secret of Trees,” on their Focus Forward films website.

Young inventors like Aidan Dwyer may be the future innovators that unlock the power of the sun for human use — making it more efficient and cost effective for everyone. Be sure to watch the short film about his invention, and check out what other young inventors are doing to help ensure a brighter future for us all.

Feature image courtesy of PopTech

By Chrystal Johnson

Chrystal Johnson, publisher of Happy Mothering, founder of Green Moms Media and essential oil fanatic, is a mother of two sweet girls who believes in living a simple, natural lifestyle. A former corporate marketing communication manager, Chrystal spends her time researching green and eco-friendly alternatives to improve her family's life.