November 18th, 2011
01:45 PM ET

Meet a 13-year-old solar panel developer

By John D. Sutter, CNN

Obvious statement: Lots of middle schoolers have been outside.

But I'm going to go out on a limb and say that almost none of them look up at the trees, see the Fibonacci Sequence in the branches, and use that insight to develop new and more-efficient methods of arranging solar panels.

Stuff like that only happens to Aidan Dwyer.

This 13-year-old from Long Island, New York, was a presenter at the recent PopTech conference, where he spoke with CNN. He says his method for arranging solar panels - based on the mathematics of tree branches - is 20 to 50% more efficient than traditional solar arrays, especially in low-light conditions, such as cloudy days in the winter or in places where there are lots of trees and tall buildings.

"My design is like a tree," he said, "but instead of having leaves it has solar panels at the ends (of the branches)."

Dwyer created a prototype of this tree-like solar panel array for a science fair with the help of his granddad. He ordered the solar panels online and the pair built the rest of it together. For his efforts, he won the Young Naturalist award this year from the American Museum of Natural History in New York. (You can see a photo of the solar-panel prototype on that museum's website).

This idea for this energy-saving project hit Dwyer when he was going for a walk in the woods near his home in New York:

One day I was just walking through the woods - well, on a winter hiking trip - and I noticed that the tree branches collect sunlight by going up into the air. And I thought: 'Maybe if we put solar panels on the ends of the branches it would collect a lot of sunlight.'

He also made another mind-boggling observation: That tree branches spiral up the trunk based on a mathematic concept called the Fibonacci Sequence. I had to look that equation up before my interview with Dwyer, but I didn't really need to. He can explain it off the top of his head:

The Fibonacci Sequence was made by a medieval mathematician, Fibonacci, and he played with a math puzzle to figure out how fast rabbits could reproduce over time. How it's done is you start with 0 and 1, and then you add the two numbers in the series together to get the next number in the sequence. So it's like 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, and so on.

He added:

The fraction for an oak tree is 2:5, which means five branches spiral around the trunk two times to reach the same starting point. So, if you start out at 75 degrees, and you get five branches to go around the trunk twice, then you'll be back at 75 degrees.

Right-o, kid.

Dwyer said he's been contacted by professors and other middle schools who want to work with him on this project, but not all scientists are impressed with his work. Some science bloggers have tried to debunk some of Dwyer's concept, saying, among other things:

Aidan did not actually discover a more efficient way to convert solar energy into power as he claimed and these numerous publications reported. In fact, Aidan’s essay, while extremely well written, contains methodological flaws and incorrect conclusions.

That blog post, on a site called The Optimiskeptic, questions whether Dwyer used the right measurements to make his conclusions:

I’m not entirely sure why Aidan thought that he could measure power intake by measuring voltage on his solar cells. I’m not entirely sure why the different arrangements yielded different voltage totals ... I do know that solar cells are designed to convert energy from photons into potential energy in the form of electrons: 'charging the battery.' Levels of voltage have nothing to do with how charged that battery is, however, and at no time during his experiment was Aidan actually measuring how much power was being converted by each of the solar cell arrangements.

Dwyer, for his part, says the bloggers are missing the point:

Some of the commenters were encouraging me and some were giving me ideas to expand my research. But some, I felt like they didn't understand my project. Their points weren't really related to my project. I was trying to see if the tree design could collect more sunlight - not more open current voltage. But I also measured open-current voltage and it collected 20% more (than flat-panel solar arrays).

Furthermore, he said, his panels collected 50% more light in low-light conditions than flat-panel arrangements, like those found on top of homes.

So there. Of course, science is a conversation. Debate is a good thing. Who knows whether Dwyer's tree-based solar panels really will change the world - but how cool is it that a 13-year-old has come up with an idea that even has the potential to bump the clean-tech industry a bit into the future?

Dwyer is among the people most shocked by all the attention his project has gotten. He's not sure what to make of it all - or how to handle conversations with adults for that matter:

At PopTech I feel a little lonely because I'm the youngest one there - like, by a big range. It's pretty lonely being the youngest one ... I don't know how to start a conversation with an adult yet - so I just have to wait for them to ask me questions, and all that. They just come up to me and go 'You're that kid!' And then they ask me about my project and they ask me about how I found that idea and then the conversation forms.

One thing I found particularly impressive about Dwyer is that he come across as smart, composed - and normal. The phrase "child genius" brings to mind the social-awkwardness of the kids in "The Royal Tenenbaums" or overly-adult-seemingness of that child actor in "The Sixth Sense." Dwyer doesn't emit those qualities. He seems like pretty much any other middle schooler you might meet - until you ask him about Fibonacci.

"I'm starting to get into photography. I do a sailing program in the summer. I play golf - and I, like, hang out with my friends," he said.

Those friends, by the way, don't quite get all this solar-panel business.

"They're really impressed - but they don't really understand it," he said, cracking a nervous smile. "I don't really talk to them about it."

He saves those conversations for reporters - and for his conference lectures, of course.

Click the video below to watch Dwyer's presentation at the PopTech conference last month. And let us know what you think in the comments.

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Filed under: Innovation • Science • Tech • Thinkers
soundoff (757 Responses)
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  26. Truth Seeker

    All things considered, the "controversy" here, actually pales in comparison to what happened in the 2004 S.i.e.m.e.n.s Science C.o.m.p.e.t.i.t.i.o.n "fiasco" (that to this day was never made public or properly explained by the media). Fortunately, nothing quite this bad has occurred since then and maybe because of what happened, the media has learned to do a bit more checking before "going nuts" about these things – but maybe still not quite enough.

    Anyway, it is great that many, many, young people are still interested in getting into science and there are, indeed, a lot of really bright and talented young people out there – some of which will go on to win future Nobel prizes! Even if not, we need all of them that we can get.

    December 4, 2011 at 6:00 pm | Reply
    • Dennis

      If the adult business people and engineers were forced to compete with being kept on life support by rate payer and tax payer money they would either be inovative and make solar PV a financially viable product or it would be filed in the history bin with alchemy.

      Also, the truly observant would notice that the tree converts solar energy chemically If the adult business people and engineers were forced to compete with being kept on life support by rate payer and tax payer money they would either be innovative and make solar PV a financially viable product or it would be filed in the history bin with alchemy.

      Also, the truly observant would notice that the tree converts solar energy chemically

      December 5, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
      • mdmann

        OK...I had a sense of deja vu all over again. Strike one.

        You really show yourself to be completely ignorant of what is going on in technology these days. There are many research efforts going on around the world to improve the efficiency, simplify the production, and reduce the cost of solar PV systems, so your claim that adults aren't being innovative in this regard is pure rubbish. READ up on the photovoltaic research. Strike two.

        And solar photovoltaics are clearly NOT equivalent to "alchemy" since there are PV systems up all around the world generating electricity in both commercial and residential settings. That ain't alchemy. Those are "early adopters." They are ones partly making it possible for the research I mentioned above to continue. Strike three.

        OK...I had a sense of deja vu all over again. Strike One....

        You really show yourself to be completely unaware of what is going on in technology these days....

        December 6, 2011 at 3:12 am |
  27. hum

    This method is not new nor is it cost effective, it is also not as energy efficient as he claims.
    Trees have that structure so as many leaves as possible can have access to sunlight, the same thing happens in solar farms with rotating panels that follow the sun.
    A rotating solar "tree" would cost more money to create and recieve the same amount of sunlight as a rotating ground solar unit.

    December 2, 2011 at 1:05 am | Reply
    • hum

      I just looked at the pictures from his "reasearch" comparing the "tree" with traditional panels, it amazes me how no one notice that he placed the tradidtional panels in the shade of the "tree" for his measurements.

      December 2, 2011 at 1:17 am | Reply
      • mdmann

        Be careful....some of these nimrods will start attacking you claiming that you are just jealous of this kid or that you are mean for pointing out the flaws in this work, because they aren't interested in the truth. This is a pop-science phenomenon to them. It would be akin to someone creating a science-based version of "American Idol."

        December 2, 2011 at 1:33 am |
    • Truth Seeker

      Much ado about little, or nothing! – as usual by the science-illiterate news media! See my other comments below about "scholarship", humility, and the fact that most or all of this stuff has been known for centuries (particularly my reference to the great Irving Adler intro to math for kids)!

      This kid will probably end up on Wall Street, at a law firm, or maybe become a doctor (where most young people would prefer to work) – not an important solar power innovator.

      December 2, 2011 at 1:28 pm | Reply
    • Shawn

      I agree, not to take anything away from this positive report on a kid who is interested in science and improving the world, but this idea and concept is old news. I myself have discussed this techique for years but the cost of producing a full size solar tree was and is still too much money. I think it is awesome that this concept is getting so much attention! Appearently if we want to have our ideas get widespread attention we just need to have a 13 year old kid bring it up.
      There are many new flexible mini panels being sold now that would make great leaves on a solar tree, but at $3-$5.00 per panel you would have $600 bucks invested in just panels for a miniture version. We need life size trees with thousands of panels to create power for homes and other applications.
      Keep on keepin on.

      December 5, 2011 at 4:17 pm | Reply
  28. Melissa

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    November 29, 2011 at 6:56 pm | Reply
    • mdmann

      Monsters? To what/whom are you referring and on what are you basing such a comment?

      And before you answer that, since I'm fairly sure I know the answers...are you at all familiar with science?

      November 29, 2011 at 7:04 pm | Reply
  29. trICKy

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    November 27, 2011 at 9:35 pm | Reply
    • mdmann

      What the heck does this have to do with President Obama?

      November 27, 2011 at 10:31 pm | Reply
      • Adam Smith

        Nothing. "Thanks Obama" is just what every right-wing nutjob appends to the end of any complaint about government, the weather, or their most recent bowel movement. There is no rhyme or reason to it.

        November 28, 2011 at 11:10 am |
      • mdmann

        Gotcha! Thanks for the explanation. Clearly you've been doing noble battle with these cretins for a're able to translate for them! 😉

        November 28, 2011 at 4:46 pm |
  30. PJS

    This child can think. As with all research, "truth" is relative. Did you hear the one about oat bran causing cancer? The point of it is that his proposal has reached a lot of people and has inspired new ideas. Truth Seeker can troll all he wants, the point of the story is that this kid can think, and act on his ideas. The story, to me, is an excellent example of how America should stop "teaching to the test" as we have legislated with NCLB. The skills and intelligence needed to come up with ideas and actually follow them through is what our children need. Bravo kid!

    November 27, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Reply
    • mdmann

      This story has absolutely nothing to do with NCLB or "teaching to the test!" Stop trying to bootstrap. This is simply an example of CNN doing very poor journalism. I don't discount this child as being intelligent, but there has been no breakthrough here–his assertions have already been announced as not being correct. To keep suggesting that something significant happened here when it didn't is extremely irrational, irresponsible, and frankly, totally unfair to the many people who actually do come up with novel ideas that never see the light of day because they can't get anyone to listen. The only reason this has gotten so much hype is because of age, and it helps that he is also white (grumble and groan all you want). Such a story would be relegated to a place where most people wouldn't even see it, perhaps not published at all, if he were not white, or people would be extremely unkind in their comments with all sorts of racist talk. Most of you people wouldn't even care about this story at all if he were 35. The level of disingenuousness being exhibited by many of the posters, along with the bad journalism, make this whole affair incredibly galling. You people need to stick to commenting on the latest antics of Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, and Britney Spears. Go watch American Idol. Stay out of the area of science until you actually develop an appreciation and respect for science.

      November 27, 2011 at 3:18 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Good "scholarship" (i.e. researching prior efforts and crediting all those who have contributed to those efforts) is also VERY important for any "good scientist" and, frankly, it is just plain unethical to not point out prior work (especially if this is done intentionally, as was the case in 2004). Trying to take sole credit for ideas which may not have originated with you is not a good practice and will catch up with you in the end and can even ruin your reputation (that's what, eventually, may happen to the winner of that 2004 S.i.e.m.e.n.s S.c.i.e.n.c.e C.o.m.p.e.t.i.t.i.o.n, by the way).

      Just because you claim an idea as original, doesn't make it so (whether such a claim is made by an adult, or a child). Yes, we should encourage creative thinking and daydreaming and brainstorming and anything else that can motivate young kids to think about going into science and engineering – but trying to do this by fabricating celebrity is not the right way to go about this. This is a good example of placing expediency and instant gratification above good (possibly decades-long) preparation and training which can lead to genuine later fame. Major advancements in science and technology rarely occur quickly, or easily, and those aspiring to such lofty goals have to develop great patience and perseverance (something that most kids are not being taught today).

      As far as America's ranking in science goes, we now can't even send our astronauts into space anymore! And, the majority of our people don't even support NASA or what it tries to do. Hopefully some of the private space efforts will pan out to allow us to get back into space as a nation (before the Chinese do this as well). Unfortunately most of our kids don't stand much of a chance against foreign trained kids anymore. We will need 100's of thousands of kids like the above. Is CNN prepared to feature 100's of thousands of kids in its future reporting (you know, to help motivate and encourage them)? This doesn't really help much – support our science and math teachers and pay them more, instead!

      November 27, 2011 at 3:37 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Facts and "truth" are rarely, if ever, "relative" (except perhaps in the case of moving objects where even there correct predictions can be made). By definition, if statements and claims are "relative" (i.e subjective), then they are no longer facts and truth at all, but merely "opinions" ! Science doesn't work based on "opinion", it works based on evidence. Maybe if you took a course in logic you would understand the difference.

      November 27, 2011 at 3:46 pm | Reply
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  31. Truth Seeker

    "Golden Book of Mathematics – page 31 – Irving Adler, 1962". Did he reference this (or any other) texts for his work? What happened to "scholarship" as part of the measure of academic success? Will everyone in the future be allowed to just re-invent science?

    November 26, 2011 at 4:16 pm | Reply
    • Alex

      there really isn't anything such as "original". every invention is based off of someone else's invention/idea, etc etc. that said, the golden triangle is common knowledge now. unless his example was verbatim with the book's example, i'm not sure he would need to reference that. and also, he's 13 years old for christ's sake, who gives a f if he plagiarized an example. petty stuff.

      November 27, 2011 at 12:53 pm | Reply
      • Alex

        meant to say golden ratio.

        November 27, 2011 at 12:54 pm |
      • mdmann

        I'm sorry to tell you this, Alex, but many places this young many might be interested in care plenty about plagiarism. There have been several universities which have rescinded doctoral degrees due to plagiarism that was found after the fact. Yes, this child is only 13, but as someone who has worked in high schools, I can tell you that plagiarism is a serious problem in schools. Because of the ease at getting access to information now (like Wikipedia), many kids 1) don't understand what "literature search" means, and 2) don't seem to grasp that the information doesn't actually belong to them, and they must cite their references to give credit to the people who actually came up with the idea or did the work behind the idea they are incorporating into their writing/work. It is absolutely imperative in science to properly cite your work to not only give proper credit, but also to give your peers, who will review the validity of your assertions, a clear sense of what you did and what you assumed to come up with those assertions. You could appropriate an idea from someone else and completely take it out of its original context. Without citing the original work, nobody would know this, and people would likely be looking for the proof of your assertions within the body of YOUR work, and never find it.

        I'll say again, that many of the comments being made by people on this board show a complete lack of understanding of how science works. I am certain that what I've said here probably has not resonated with you at'll go on believing that you understand what is important. The scientific and broader academic community, however, is NOT behind you on this.

        November 27, 2011 at 1:46 pm |
      • Truth Seeker

        "there really isn't anything such as "original""

        There you are COMPLETELY WRONG, Alex!

        For one thing, if this were true, then no one would ever be able to get another patent (since even an improvement to a prior technology has to shown to be "original" and not mentioned before). But more importantly, while there are certainly different degrees of originality, you can't say that what Einstein came up with and what most of the really famous scientists and inventors, throughout history, came up with wasn't "mostly original". Archimedes idea of buoyancy and specific gravity was NEVER conceived of before him! Most of Leonardo Da Vinci's ideas had never be thought of before – including his flying machine, helicopter, parachute, submarine and snorkel, not to mention numerous mechanical devices and mechanisms. There are tens of thousands of completely original ideas that have originated with individuals throughout history (not to mention hundreds of thousands of COMPLETELY ORIGINAL ideas and discoveries in science, technology, and mathematics). You simply don't know what you are talking about! Take a "history of science" course before commenting here!

        November 27, 2011 at 3:59 pm |
      • Truth Seeker


        Very good points. This is exactly what happened in that "prestigious" 2004 c.o.m.p.e.t.i.t.i.o.n (don't know why this word and some others are being censored). It will continue to be a big problem if those in academia AND THE MEDIA don't put their feet down. If nothing more, it will lead to further erosion of our progress, as we become doomed to simply re-inventing the "same" wheels and giving people credit for doing this. I think some of this just comes down to laziness and an unwillingness to accept that most ideas are not original (though some indeed are).

        We seem to be among the few in agreement on such things 🙂

        November 27, 2011 at 4:07 pm |
      • mdmann

        Yes, I've noticed that, too. It's very disturbing. I definitely think laziness is a big part of it–people just can't be bothered to try to get to the meat of an issue anymore, and CNN did an excellent job of providing a very ridiculous account of a non-event. It's a pablum of misinformation for the scientific neophyte. But there is also a bit of what I will call "willful superficiality" to what is going on here. Even when you tell these people that there is more to the topic than their inane comments suggest, and that there are broader and far more important implications, they insist on focusing on superficialities–"he's only 13," "what were you doing when you were 13," "the naysayers are just jealous," "this kid will be hiring your child," etc., etc. That's the sum total of what many of these people seem to be able to conjure up in the way of discussion.

        It really is no wonder that America has lost its scientific and technological edge. I believe we are now at least one if not two generations behind the curve. We've produced a bunch of people who use technology (and often for completely stupid purposes), but they don't understand the technology, how to use it responsibly, or what actually went into producing it. We glorify marketers and showmen like Steve Jobs, elevating them to the level of Messiahs, while the people who actually created the technological advance through careful and deliberate work remain completely unknown.

        November 27, 2011 at 8:13 pm |
      • Truth Seeker

        Are you maybe admitting to doing this too?

        November 27, 2011 at 4:08 pm |
      • Adam Smith

        I agree wholeheartedly with mdmann's assement of the "he's only 13", "what were you doing at 13", "your kid will be pumping his gas" etc.. feedback. These are ignorant, cliché remarks that don't even attempt a counterargument to the claim that this article (and any praise of Aidan) is unjustified.

        To all the simpletons who've made comments of this nature: you forgot to say that your dad could beat up his dad.

        November 28, 2011 at 11:16 am |
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  32. nevin

    This is what I am talking about. Time to solve problems by thinking. by using our environment around us to take tech and other inventions to the next level. no need to reinvent the wheel. plants have been collecting light from the sun for a very long time. This is great. I would love to meet this kid. Great idea. Lets make America Great again.

    November 26, 2011 at 8:45 am | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      People have been talking about America making a technological comeback for over 20 years! We can't even get green energy off the ground. Most solar cells are now make in China and most wind turbines are also made overseas. Good luck on anything else being made here!! As many Americans like to say "Just Drill Baby – Drill ! ".

      November 26, 2011 at 1:24 pm | Reply
      • mdmann

        Amen, Truth! In fact, the unhealthy and over-the-top reaction that many people on this forum have had in regards to this story underscores part of the reason why America has slipped so far behind other countries in the area of technoloigical advance. This population is so un-savvy when it comes to science and technology. They take a piece of extremely questionable journalism and turn a 13-year old kid into a child genius. The problem is that the average American has the attention span of a gnat. Thinking deeply about a subject escapes them, so there is no way they could have thought critically about this story. That's why so many of them here have come to wholly erroneous conclusions about how this child is going to save the world. They focus too much on flash and not at all on actual substance. You can't do that if you want to be a leader in science and technology. We've utterly lost this race, and I don't think it will come back any time soon.

        November 26, 2011 at 1:55 pm |
  33. Will

    Efficiency of a pv panel will always been low. 30% efficiency is great. Over the course of 20 yrs, efficiency will drop to about 15%, that is expected. The solution isn't getting the panels "higher up and close to the sun," but to change the way we convert thermal to electrical energy

    Green energy college student

    November 25, 2011 at 3:26 pm | Reply
  34. Jim

    Thanks to BABYBOOMERS for Destroying Generation-X. It's great to see young people take over the world. It's great.

    November 25, 2011 at 3:14 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Agree – but it will be young ASIANS that actually take over the world – we coddle our young people far to much and compliment them for relatively minor achievements. That might be good for their self-esteem and egos but not much more. Right now – today – there are at least 1000 kids of the same age, doing even more remarkable things. They are unlikely to get any publicity until much later in their lives. Also, why no stories about Blacks and Latinos and other minorities doing great little science experiments?

      November 25, 2011 at 5:45 pm | Reply
  35. Lou Hawthorne

    Wonderful story about a very smart kid! Good job CNN! As far as the debate over what exactly this young man has accomplished, it's thought-provoking no matter what. Anyone interested in learning more about Fibonacci and downstream thinkers like Pascal, as well as underlying math leading up to the Binomial Theorem, check out this lecture (by a 9-year old); it's 20+ minutes long and so is posted in 2 segments:


    November 25, 2011 at 3:12 pm | Reply
  36. Jeff

    While we are on the topic, can solar panels be curved or are they all flat? I was thinking that if you have a solar panel tree, wouldn't it be better if it was cone-shaped like a Christmas tree, maximizing the entire area of the tree. If this solar tree rotated then all the panels would be exposed to sunlight. I guess if there are only flat solar panels, if they are small enough they could give the appearance of being curved when assembled. If I am being ridiculous, please let me know.

    November 25, 2011 at 10:35 am | Reply
  37. Jeff

    If you find that there are issues with his hypothesis, offer constructive criticism on ways to make his device better, don't just shoot him down. If you are all intelligent people, think about how he can improve, instead of just saying your wrong. It seems that most of you are just arguing among yourselves. I'm not a scientist, but if this young gentlemen is on to something, then let him know. If he is way off the mark, then point him in the right direction. Debunking a theory doesn't solve anything. Encourage, don't discourage. His media attention is not his fault, don't blame him for it. If you check the video, it gives an email that you can contact him, offer other ideas on ways to improve his design. Scientific discoveries, from my view, have always been a collabrative effort

    November 25, 2011 at 10:19 am | Reply
    • mdmann

      I'm sorry, but since you admit you aren't a scientist, it seems to me that it is wrong of you to comment on how science *is* or how scientific discoveries have been made. A scientific theory MUST be debunked if it is incorrect. Scientific pursuit is its own encouragement...there is no requirement for scientists to "encourage" one another. If you follow the PROCESS (yes, it is a process), then you get the right answer or find the right answer. If you don't follow the process, you end up in the weeds. Sometimes, you can even make such a huge mistake that it ends your scientific career (think Pons and Fleischnmann and the cold fusion debacle). That is the way science works. If this young man wants to be a scientist, he has to accept that this is the way of science, and that it is that way for a reason–to protect the integrity of the endeavor at to actually advance understanding. He doesn't need you or anyone else who doesn't really understand science to coddle him.

      November 25, 2011 at 6:28 pm | Reply
      • Jeff

        I'm sorry, but since you admit you aren't a scientist, it seems to me that it is wrong of you to comment on how science *is* or how scientific discoveries have been made. A scientific theory MUST be debunked if it is incorrect. Scientific pursuit is its own encouragement...there is no requirement for scientists to "encourage" one another. If you follow the PROCESS (yes, it is a process), then you get the right answer or find the right answer. If you don't follow the process, you end up in the weeds. Sometimes, you can even make such a huge mistake that it ends your scientific career (think Pons and Fleischnmann and the cold fusion debacle). That is the way science works. If this young man wants to be a scientist, he has to accept that this is the way of science, and that it is that way for a reason–to protect the integrity of the endeavor at to actually advance understanding. He doesn't need you or anyone else who doesn't really understand science to coddle him.

        I think you misinterpreted my comment. I'm not asking anyone to coddle. All I am saying is that recognize that he is only 13 and that if his theory and conclusions are incorrect, then instead of just saying your wrong and leaving it at that, show him where he went wrong and offer solutions or ideas to put him on the correct path, that's not coddling, it's educating. For some reason you assumed, that because I am not a scientist, I am uneducated, and cannot speak to such things. You would be wrong.

        November 28, 2011 at 8:18 am |
      • mdmann

        No, I didn't make any comment about your level of education, nor did I assume anything about your level of education. If I were anywhere in this young man's sphere of influence, I would be trying to counsel him on his interest in science. I live nowhere near him, and I would imagine his parents would not like their 13-year old son getting contacted by a bunch of complete strangers. However, there HAVE been comments in that vein in the replies here, and people keep coming back with nonsense like "you're just jealous," "don't pay any attention to them, Aidan," "for christ's sake, he's only 13" and "what were you doing when you were 13." It has become very clear that the majority of the people commenting here, BECAUSE they don't understand science, don't correctly interpret the critique that is happening here as an absolutely necessary part of the process. The fact that this person is only 13 doesn't mean a thing in the grand scheme. He proposed a scientific idea, tried to test it, didn't do that properly, and he is getting critiques for it. In fact, he had ALREADY gotten critiqued for it, and that is where the real problem is. The ones who should be taking the heat for what happened here is CNN and John Sutter for writing and publishing this stupid article. They didn't bother to do their homework. They treated this science story as if it were some pop-culture phenomenon, which means it was decidedly superficial. Superficiality in science is wrong. It damages the credibility of science among the general public even further when people do stuff like this.

        November 28, 2011 at 2:43 pm |
  38. YounanMarketingAndManagementAssociatesInc,Int'l Intst'r

    Maybe what his name 13 year old is actually having assault trouble in the woods where he says he was wandering and got this idea of a tree with solar panel branch ends etc. what is your father's background stupid kid.
    i remembered my analysis of what natural earth conditions may cause major earthquakes and repeated earthquakes in the same area. there are 6 types of gases that move around under the earth and they form pockets of different combinations and then they explode and explode until their is a bigger mass together that earthquakes to the surface totally. though there are those other classes of earth damage that can be man-made and caused.
    theresa noelle younan. oh there are flaky snowmen everywhere – beware

    November 24, 2011 at 8:22 pm | Reply
    • mdmann

      theresa noelle younan, I think you need to go back on your meds, or get your doctor to up the dosage.

      November 25, 2011 at 3:49 am | Reply
  39. holymoly9876

    Taking inspiration from nature..very clever. Trees of course have evolved over many years or even decades to collect a lot of sunlight. He could be on to something here.

    November 24, 2011 at 3:16 pm | Reply
  40. D

    This story is a joke

    November 24, 2011 at 2:25 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      So was the 2004 S.i.e.m.en.s. S.c.i.e.n.c.e C.o.m.p.e.t.i.t.i.o.n ! Actually, that was even much worse!

      November 25, 2011 at 5:40 pm | Reply
  41. YounanMarketingAndManagementAssociatesInc,Int'l Intst'r

    I invented a scalp vapor steamer to reduce scalp itchiness and at the same time kill bacteria. dryness causes scalp itchiness and so do soaps and shampoos etc. but i discovered that the bay leaf stopped my scalp itchiness which would temporarily stop sometimes if i washed my hair but i didn't want to wash my hair daily because it damages my hair strands and causes me to loose more hair in the combing as well. i still have some diabetic itchiness of the face related to sugar intake but not too much. theresa noelle younan the regular allergy pills did not control that scalp and skin itchiness.

    November 24, 2011 at 11:35 am | Reply
  42. YounanMarketingAndManagementAssociatesInc,Int'l Intst'r

    i still have to test the bay leaf's allergy effectiveness for hair dye allergy which is like poison ivy contact allergy.
    theresa noelle younan

    November 24, 2011 at 11:30 am | Reply
  43. YounanMarketingAndManagementAssociatesInc,Int'l Intst'r

    i had to break a lot to treat extreme pain i have which the vitamins aren't helping now for some reason, so i had to add the tylenol – 2 basic ones.
    that solar tree panel i am seeing as something you could just mount on the inside ceiling surface and in that case the solar powering source which it isn't all of because the cells appear to be batteries, would just be artificial light and window light just in running weighing scales and calculators and certain phones. at the same time they may parallel heat lamps because they are giving off heat. but different design forms would be needed not just the tree branch one because everyone wouldn't want to same interior design part in their homes. you could use a regular plant design maybe not ceiling mounted or a big bird design with wings opened or a deer with big antlers. because again to point out it doesn't from description seem to be the authentic solar panel.
    theresa noelle younan ymma-iii i-pic interpole galactica.
    the bay leaf peices do eliminate the need for allergy pills as well as stopping the coughing. you may cough rarely but most of the time there is no coughing. the alternative natural medication of home product medicine is perfect for the military to have because they don't need to carry bottles of different medicines when they get sick while on duty and there are more i have to work out for antidotes to poisons, such as the cia agent should have had.rather the russian agent, i am not sure how the six cia ones were murdered, because most poisons take awhile to kill you and you have time to give yourself an antidote. the pill boxes full of ineffective pills are no good either.

    November 24, 2011 at 11:28 am | Reply
  44. Truth Seeker

    Maybe a little late to the party?

    What about a re-do of that c-o-m-p-e-t-i-t-i-o-n? – outcome doesn't seem quite fair to other participants!!

    November 24, 2011 at 11:15 am | Reply
  45. Marge

    The scientists who are dissing Aidan are probably just jealous they didn't think of it first. Einstein thought of his theory while day dreaming or having a sort of out of body experience while looking out the window of a train. Or, they're the same hacks paid by the fossil fuel lobby to put down green technology and global warming. I'm sure any advances in green tech puts another nail in oil and coal's coffin. Thank god.

    November 24, 2011 at 10:17 am | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Don't know what you are talking about! I work in alternative energy and most people who day dream become scientists or inventors just because of their tendency to day dream (it's not that unusual – you probably even do it). Everyday there are are thousands of people having thousands of original ideas – most of these don't get featured on CNN though. Maybe CNN should feature 2-3 new ideas EVERY DAY – that might actually help to motivate young people a lot more to go into science and engineering rather than one story every year.

      November 24, 2011 at 10:57 am | Reply
  46. James

    This is the next Bill Gates/Steve Jobs – he has sold a ton of people on his idea – I do not have a clue if there is anything to it but he has sold it – waatch this young man he will go far.

    November 24, 2011 at 7:04 am | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      To medical school, law school, or Wall Street (especially if he is a good salesman).

      November 24, 2011 at 10:59 am | Reply
  47. px

    Please retract this post. The science was thoroughly debunked when it happened months ago. The kid understands what he did wrong, but this story is still bouncing around in the echo chamber as if it was actually true. It isn't, and you do the world a disservice by reporting it as fact. Don't get me wrong, this is a smart kid with a bright future, but his research doesn't support his conclusions, and his conclusions turned out to be incorrect this time.

    November 24, 2011 at 6:53 am | Reply
    • Senge

      Really? I'd like to see WORKING proof. And FYI, they said the same things about Bill Gates, Michael Dell, and Steve Jobs. The kid is 13, and he's this smart already? Your kid is going to be bagging his groceries. Good luck Aiden and ignore the haters and naysayers!

      November 24, 2011 at 7:36 am | Reply
      • mdmann

        You'd like to see working proof of what? That the idea was debunked? Or working proof that the idea doesn't work? If the latter, you must be insane. If the former, LOOK IT UP.

        Too many people here are confusing commending the child on his efforts with the scientific validity of his research. Both are quite clear, and they are not mutually exclusive. Clearly, he is an exceptional young man for even trying, but his work was not scientifically valid, and his conclusions were not supported. There really isn't much of a reason for this story to have even run. There are probably many young people who have ideas like this who don't get international press. This story should just be retracted already.

        November 24, 2011 at 2:16 pm |
      • Johan S

        Senge, px is clearly acknowledging that the kid is brilliant - he said nothing bad about the kid - merely pointed out hte possibility of an error, I'm sure even Steve Jobs were wrong about stuff and it had to be pointed out. I'm sure this kid appreciates truth more than you and doesn't need his ego stroked in a patronizing manner. If px is raising a kid who is aware of truth .. I'm pretty sure he's not gonna end up bagging groceries (which is, btw, better than living off welfare).

        November 25, 2011 at 9:13 pm |
  48. Truth Seeker

    Hate to say this but this is probably quite a bit more significant:

    It could lead to much lighter airplanes and cars, for one.

    November 23, 2011 at 8:20 pm | Reply
  49. Rick Springfield

    Anytime you mimic nature for the benefit of technology, its a winning situation. Why does your cellphone no longer have one of those rubber ducky retractable antennas? Well it was fine for a single 900 mhz channel. But we added 1.2 Ghz, wifi radio, and bluetooth. That's too much going on to use a traditional dipole antenna. So in nature we found that trees, snow flakes, mountains, rivers, all used fractal math. As parts get smaller, it mimics the larger whole part. So a Ham radio operator came up with the fractal antenna that's inside your phone today.

    November 23, 2011 at 6:11 pm | Reply
    • Ben

      It's true that there are many situations in which mimicking nature can be beneficial, but it can't be taken so literally. Yes, PV cells and trees both functioning by capturing sunlight, but that does not automatically mean PV arrays should be shaped like trees. For anyone with a basic understanding of how the technology works, it's not even worth discussing.

      November 23, 2011 at 6:27 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Fractal antennas are very cool but planes don't fly by flapping their wings! Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. Biological systems don't use metals for instance, so many possible technologies can't be developed just through biological processes.

      November 23, 2011 at 6:30 pm | Reply
      • mdmann

        Excellent counterexample! I was trying to come up with one, but you hit the nail on the head! THANK YOU!

        November 23, 2011 at 10:18 pm |
      • Roberbill

        It's not that simple. Looking below the surface, you find that planes and birds have much in common. First, birds can glide without flapping their wings. This is approximated by human hang-gliders and by airplanes. Second, birds overcome drag and gravity by generating lift through flapping their wings. Human found a more efficiency way to overcome drag and gravity through propulsion of more air under the fixed wings (propellers then turbojets). Needless to say, humans first aspired to fly, then achieved it, by studying birds.

        November 23, 2011 at 11:12 pm |
      • Roberbill

        PS. Biological systems DO use metals. Chlorophyll in plants contain magnesium at its core, and hemoglobin in humans and other animals contain iron. Certain mollusks use copper instead. Zinc is a key component of many enzymes and regulatory proteins that interact with DNA. And cobalt is the key to Vitamin B12. There are many other examples of metals and their role in biological systems.

        November 23, 2011 at 11:20 pm |
      • VelveteenLady

        As a teacher, my take on this young man's work is completely different from that of the techies, who have responded here. What is phenomenal about Aiden's discovery is not necessarily the discovery itself, but that he has achieved this feat by using metacognition (thinking about thinking). When a student is able to use megacognition, he/she uses " . . . higher order thinking which involves active control over the cognitive processes engaged in learning. Activities such as planning how to approach a given learning task, monitoring comprehension, and evaluating progress toward the completion of a task are metacognitive in nature. Because metacognition plays a critical role in successful learning, it is important to study metacognitive activity and development to determine how students can be taught to better apply their cognitive resources through metacognitive control." [] This is what we strive to help our students to achieve in the classroom. It is so exciting to read about the process that Aiden used to decide to test his theory. We need to remember that even if a student's idea does not pan out, the fact that he/she went through the megacognitive process to map out a concept from initiation to conclusion is a monumental educational feat. Granted, Aiden is likely a gifted student, but helping all students through the metacognitive process sets the bar higher and brings value to education.

        November 24, 2011 at 4:45 am |
      • Truth Seeker

        For some reason censors won't even let me agree with Roberbill !!!

        November 24, 2011 at 11:05 am |
      • Truth Seeker

        Don't know why censors prevented this from getting through but I have tried to change it

        In response to Roberbill

        YES! You are absolutely correct! I am not a biologist and was thinking too structurally (but if I had thought about it longer, I probably would have remembered about hemoglobin and zinc anyway). Still, it is only recently that complex biochemical reactions been fully understood and I think only a few have so far been pursued towards the goal of an industrial usage (like photosynthesis).

        November 26, 2011 at 3:55 pm |
  50. pkfops

    This kid will be crushed by Koch Industries.

    November 23, 2011 at 6:01 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      He should be so lucky!

      November 23, 2011 at 8:11 pm | Reply
  51. Truth Seeker

    "Your comment is awaiting moderation" – (forever).

    So I have had to change it a bit:

    "The controversy about exaggerating this particular accomplishment is nothing compared to what happened in the 2004 S-i-e-m-e-n-s S-c-i-e-n-c-e C-o-m-p-e-t-i-t-i-o-n. Both S-i-e-m-e-n-s and the news media have yet to acknowledge the uge mistake that happened that time, when they awarded first prize to a supposed "new" technology that had already been invented and patented over 25 years earlier! Those in charge had to privately admit this fact but never did so publicly. The judging committee also had to admit that the reason for their massive error was due to a lack ability (or desire) to conduct a careful and proper background search before making their announcement to the press (which was also unfair to the other contestants).

    Sometimes in the rush to find inspirational 'good news' stories, facts get all too easily overlooked and then after the story goes out no one wants to tamper with the 'legends' that get created and retold. No wonder the historical record can sometimes get trashed as a result."

    November 23, 2011 at 4:49 pm | Reply
    • Charles

      I have to tell this story: I went to a national green building conference in Austin about 1995 or so and ran into an old acquaintance (from Argentina & living in New Mexico) who I had not seen for years. He informed me that his latest project was his design of a tree structure with solar panels as a way to overcome objections to the aesthetics of solar panels in public places. Perhaps he did not use advanced calculations of sun/angles but it goes without saying that anybody would be cognizant of the efficacy, etc. when installing panels. I congratulate the kid but he was not first...

      November 23, 2011 at 10:48 pm | Reply
      • Truth Seeker

        Few people are the "first" at anything – that's what even Newton modestly proclaimed (and he didn't have to – he WAS first at lots of things). Science progresses by building on the work of others (although on occasion you have people like an Einstein or Tesla). In any case, I just think it's always a good idea to research what others have already done before you start running down the street, naked, yelling 'Eureka' (as goes the story of Archimedes doing this when he discovered the concept of specific density – which WAS a totally new concept at the time). It's important to credit others wherever and whenever it is appropriate. Anyway, young people have to understand that everything they do may not necessarily be revolutionary and/or lead to riches but can still be worth doing, anyway – just because.

        November 24, 2011 at 12:01 am |
      • Eric

        This is a reply to TruthSeeker actually. Regarding Einstein: Not to knock him off the pedestal society has built for him, but while he came up with an incredibly insightful explanation – he was also working, like Newton, with a LOT of work that predated him. Like, decades of work, equations, theories. Just a single (very important) example: It's called Lorentz contraction, not Einstein contraction.

        November 24, 2011 at 10:13 am |
  52. Zeke2112

    Welcome to a product of helicopter parenting. Kid comes up with an idea that sounds great to mom and dad, has no scientific credibility, is debunked by experts on the topic, and becomes a media darling. God help us all.

    November 23, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      It's not THAT bad!!! Now the 2004 S-i-e-m-e-n-s S-c-i-e-n-c-e C-o-m-p-e-t-i-t-i-o-n – THAT was bad!

      November 23, 2011 at 4:42 pm | Reply
  53. James

    Wonderful expirament by a bright kid. He is showing that he is observses nature, he can learn and expirament with his ideas. Maybe this one expirament is not the pivotal moent in solar power, but who cares. Solar power has seemed to go so slow in it's developement. Edison made something like 150 light bulbs before he got one to work, and that bulb is not what is sold today. The child has the will to dream and the desire to find new solutions. We need one million more of them. I am sure Einstein, Edison, DaVinci, Tesla and others would be giving him all the support they can.

    November 23, 2011 at 1:51 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Einstein wasn't recognized until he was in his 20s, and that was almost by chance (before that, he was considered very "mediocre"). Telsa died in poverty! Unfortunately, being a real scientist/inventor is nothing like being a Kardashian – it's not a popularity contest or marketing game and the public is always very fickle anyway (one day you are hero, the next day you are a zero)!

      November 23, 2011 at 2:14 pm | Reply
  54. Rosayah

    I think he is a very bright young man with a bright future ahead of him. He knows exactly what he is talking about & I think the "nay-sayers" are p.o'd because they didn't come up with it first(including the "science bloggers")!

    November 23, 2011 at 11:48 am | Reply
    • James

      If he knows what he's talking about, why does he keep saying open current voltage? He means open-circuit voltage, and it's a meaningless measurement without knowing the current too. If you can't blind them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bulls#&t, that's precisely what he has done to you.

      November 23, 2011 at 2:29 pm | Reply
      • brittney

        what exactly were you doing as a thirteen year old? what exactly are you doing for society now? you sound like a jealous middle school student.

        November 23, 2011 at 2:46 pm |
      • mdmann

        No, he sounds like he actually has a clue about science, unlike most of the people posting here, including you. What difference does it make what someone was doing at 13? The point is that the research this child did was flawed from a scientific perspective, and it does not support the conclusions he made. I don't fault him for this, however, I do fault CNN for running this story, and I fault all of you other adults who are making these ridiculous comments clearly having no clue whatsoever about science. This is like some stupid popularity contest to you people. Scientific integrity means absolutely nothing to you–all you care about are appearances. This child "appears" to have done something brilliant, so I guess I'll just behave like a sheep and accept that he must be brilliant and that he is going to rule the world one day. You people are doing science a disservice, and you are showing this child just how sick and unscientifically-minded this nation is.

        November 23, 2011 at 10:13 pm |
  55. Truth Seeker

    Nothing compared to the 2004 S-i-e-m-e-n-s Sci. C-o-m-p-e-t-i-t-i-o-n fiasco (which CNN censors are blocking me from bringing up here).

    November 23, 2011 at 11:21 am | Reply
  56. Truth Seeker

    The science equivalent of Kim Kardashian? This doesn't necessarily do kids a favor.

    November 23, 2011 at 11:14 am | Reply
    • Tom

      LOL 😉

      November 23, 2011 at 11:16 am | Reply
  57. Truth Seeker

    Why am I being censored here in connection with discussion of a much more serious and famous case of "embellishment"?

    November 23, 2011 at 11:12 am | Reply
    • Emanet

      Thanks for srnihag your ideas! I would appreciate tho if you'd elaborate more on the matter as I think it does lack something here and there. No offence meant.

      February 19, 2012 at 5:00 pm | Reply
  58. tbldevelopment

    Thank you for nice writing. It will help me for my research on prescription medications.

    November 23, 2011 at 10:30 am | Reply
  59. sby_PL

    the best tree's panels results are from f.e. Sahara but probe and compare efects in Alaska; Greenland or Sibir_ru areas at 273K

    November 23, 2011 at 5:59 am | Reply
  60. msaprilr

    So, the kids project was to see whether solar panels arranged like tree limbs could capture more sunlight than the ones sitting flat on your roof. And he was right. So what's with all the naysayers? PS anyone who doesn't know what a Fibonacci sequence is probably did very poorly on all their IQ tests. Really people. it's not tough.

    November 22, 2011 at 10:32 pm | Reply
    • devin

      The point is that he was not right (he did not measure anything of consequence; he should have measured power instead of voltage – and this resulted in exactly the wrong conclusion). This is still a B+ science fair project with an A+ for creativity and C for execution. The problem is that this is being reported like he is a child genius and has made a great scientific breakthrough, which is only setting him up for an eventual letdown or delusions of grandeur.

      November 23, 2011 at 9:12 am | Reply
      • Truth Seeker

        Journalists under tight deadlines looking for headlines (or a journalist who knows this kid or his family).

        November 23, 2011 at 11:09 am |
      • px

        If I recall, when his idea was debunked, the kid understood and accepted the conclusions of the debunkers. This was a while back, not sure why this story is running now. I'm more impressed with the work of kids like Matthew Miller, who was able to get a 23% increase in power from a wind turbine by adding tiny bumps to the blades. Mind blowingly simple innovations like that give me faith in the future of humanity.

        November 24, 2011 at 6:40 am |
    • Tom

      The only reason why there is so much buzz about this is because he is 13 and it's a "green" project. If anything the guy has a knack for marketing and PR and can sell himself. It is pretty obvious that tree leafs, through natural selection will likely develop the most efficient arrangement for collection sunlight. You do not need a science project to deduce that.

      Has he done a similar discovery involving oil, or coal, you would never hear about this. This is "green" so everyone is going ballistic.

      November 23, 2011 at 11:16 am | Reply
      • mdmann

        I would go even further and say that if this child were African American, there would not be nearly as much hoopla about this, and CNN would have actually done their homework. For some reason, this country is all about deifying people. Steve Jobs is a classic example, and some of what is going on here reminds me of the kind of nonsensical ways people view Steve Jobs. If this had been a black child, even if the topic had still been green energy and the age were the same, the behavior of people would most certainly not be the same.

        As far as I am concerned, this story is doing nothing but damaging the perception of science among the general population. This is pop-science at its absolute worst. The research this child did, while laudable for his age, simply would not stand up to rigorous scientific scrutiny (already hasn't). We might as well still be talking about cold fusion!

        November 23, 2011 at 10:04 pm |
  61. Chris

    Really, CNN? This has been thoroughly debunked as an incorrect result, and even the American Museum of Natural History has admitted it:

    It is great that this young person is engaging in science and trying to improve the world, but reporting this as a technological breakthrough is sloppy reporting.

    November 22, 2011 at 4:08 pm | Reply
    • sumday

      and yet you read it.

      November 22, 2011 at 4:34 pm | Reply
      • Chris

        What's your point? That journalistic integrity and the truth don't matter because the only important thing is pageviews?

        November 22, 2011 at 4:38 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      Good points! Too back the CNN censors won't let me post my comments or replies!

      November 22, 2011 at 6:18 pm | Reply
    • HM

      This kid did not develop the solar panel, just mounted cells into a tree like support structure. Big deal? Over-rated and sensationalized story. The big deal in making solar panels today in making them mass produced, efficient and inexpensive and this person has done none of those three. John Sutter, CNN reporter, needs to look for a job.

      November 23, 2011 at 12:36 am | Reply
      • Patty Ising

        It is a big deal. He's only 13! Hater!

        November 23, 2011 at 5:46 am |
  62. LBam

    Regardless of whether he's right, wrong, or other, here's a kid that looks into trees and sees a Fibonacci Sequence. That is remarkable. He needs to be celebrated as a well rounded, intelligent youth and encouraged to keep thinking, keep experimenting, instead of told, "Nope, not right. Sorry kid."

    Need I remind you of other people that were told that they were wrong by their peers?

    November 22, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
    • Adam Smith

      He should be told: "Nope, not right." AND "Keep trying!" but also a big huge "Sorry" with bells on.

      He didn't discover anything remarkable, but nor did he make a particularly boneheaded mistake. He's just a normal middle school kid who came up with a good idea for a science project, but owing to a small and unfortunate misunderstanding about how to properly conduct the experiment, misinterpreted his results. That's B- in school science fair material, not prestigious award and national media coverage material.

      It was irresponsible bordering on cruel for the AMNH, Aidan's teachers, CNN and anyone else who should have been checking the work to put him on the "child genius" pedestal without verifying the results and conclusions of the experiment.

      November 22, 2011 at 4:27 pm | Reply
      • Truth Seeker

        Correct Adam. We do a great disservice to future young scientists by coddling them and/or exaggerating their achievements at an early age. Real science and technology development takes lots of patience and unrecognized effort.

        November 22, 2011 at 7:00 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      The 'Golden Book of Mathematics' (for young people) gave a great presentation of this with pictures! Best introductory book on math for young kids (written in 1960). Pretty sure he might have seen it there or some similar book.

      November 22, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
    • Dee


      November 24, 2011 at 3:26 am | Reply
  63. Truth Seeker

    Test – is it allowed to say "c@mpeti – tion"?

    November 22, 2011 at 3:11 pm | Reply
  64. Truth Seeker

    Test – is it allowed to say ...

    November 22, 2011 at 3:10 pm | Reply
  65. Truth Seeker

    Test ... 'science'

    November 22, 2011 at 3:09 pm | Reply
  66. someone you dont know

    i had that idea years ago. it made no since at the time but i get it now.

    November 22, 2011 at 2:49 pm | Reply
  67. Kerry

    It is thinking minds like this who realize that nature holds many of the secrets for improvements in our lives. Too bad our energy companies especially Big Oil and gas don't invest more in alternative energy so that they can migrate into a new era instead of becoming extinct like fossil fuels. I also have to add from my own engineering experience the tendency in this nation to take good systems and over-complicate them leads us to then question or doubt the original simple designs. Somehow people believe, like a myth, that complexity is good, when it is NOT.

    November 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Reply
    • Dee

      Right On. Studying EE, at the college level, opens your eyes to much that you never knew existed.

      November 24, 2011 at 3:33 am | Reply
  68. Aerin

    Cool Kid! See what studying and learning gets you; not working as a janitor in schools like Newt Gingrich wants for our kids.

    November 22, 2011 at 2:27 pm | Reply
  69. Ancient Brit

    Interesting idea. To get the best out of your flat solar panels you have to angle them to always face the sun, and use tracking gear to follow the sun as it appears to move across the sky. That's an energy cost that has to be subtracted from the total efficiency of your array's collection ability (not to mention the installation cost, maintenance, etc).

    If I've understood Aidan's idea correctly, he's found an intermediate configuration that does away with the need to track the sun while still increasing the collection by 20%-50%, which is a huge accomplishment. Excellent work!

    November 22, 2011 at 1:54 pm | Reply
    • Adam Smith

      It would be a huge improvement if it were true. But it's not, and that is precisely why there is so much discussion around the attention given to this kid and his idea that doesn't work yet won an award because no one bothered to verify his claims.

      Sometimes the best solution to a particular aspect of a problem has already been found, and in this case it has been. I'm not saying there is no room for improvement in solar technology–more efficient panels will be invented–what I'm saying is that you can't beat aiming them directly at the sun. Having your panels face every which way like tree leaves is going to get you less power, and is a tradeoff you would only make for aesthetic reasons (i.e. you're making a sculpture and willingly sacrificing efficiency to make it look cool).

      November 22, 2011 at 3:13 pm | Reply
      • Ancient Brit

        I suspect you may have missed the point here – it's not about the efficiency of the panels, nor about the direct comparison between directed panels and undirected or rather pseudo-randomly arranged panels.

        It's about the overall efficiency – you know, like comparing the true energy costs for modern cars vs bicycles? On the surface, bikes should win hands down, but their production uses lots of aluminum and the energy cost and pollution produced per unit cost actually outweighs that of a modern car.

        The gain made by physically directing a solar panel is offset by the energy, materials and maintenance cost of the directing mechanism; the arrangement of panels so that each produces a reasonably good level of current during its period of exposure as the sun makes its rounds provides just enough of an overall gain to be better than a directed panel when all factors are taken into account.

        That's actually a pretty good insight for someone so young.

        November 23, 2011 at 6:22 am |
      • chris

        just glad he's not sitting around playing video games all day or watching tv..

        November 23, 2011 at 1:57 pm |
      • Andrew

        Brit – You are SO WRONG. The energy cost to direct solar panels is almost ZERO, and installing a directional system is far more advanced, efficient, and intelligent than pointing them every which way... think about it – if half your panels are facing the wrong direction, you get WAY MORE POWER than you need to "direct" the panels if you face them the right way. Duh. Also, how can you possibly imagine a bicycle uses more energy to produce than a car? Engine blocks ALONE are 400 pounds of aluminum, my bike is 8 pounds. Get a clue.

        November 24, 2011 at 2:41 am |
      • Ancient Brit


        For a gasoline powered light engine the only parts that are aluminum are the pistons – the block is mostly cast iron and steel. Unless you have a super lightweight bicycle the aluminum content is up to 30 lbs.

        Your claim that a tracking mechanism has a zero energy cost is ridiculous (and does not incorporate materials costs or the necessity of overcoming friction and other lossy aspects), which suggests you might be a troll. That opinion is further confirmed by your statement about the tree structure having panels "pointing every which way" – or maybe you just lack critical reading skills.

        November 24, 2011 at 3:14 am |
      • lens1lens

        Well a local energy coop in Seattle just built a state of the art rooftop system on a large building and their cost analysis was that it was not cost effective to direct the panels. So I'm not so sure Andrew's opinion is a slam dunk.

        November 24, 2011 at 3:49 am |
    • Dee

      My Mother told me to never fool with Mother Nature. She was right. She did not tell me what this kid observed on his own.
      The lesson: Learn from what nature has laid in front of us all. Why are leaves green ? Why does the branch of the tree angle upward ? Why does the tree know when winter is upon us ? I wonder about that. What I do see is a kid with the right stuff. Maybe more of our kids need to think more about nature. The idea may not be brilliant but the concept of a child wanting to understand nature is something we should all embrace. Bravo. There is hope for the generations to follow.


      November 24, 2011 at 4:05 am | Reply
  70. Truth Seeker

    Is it allowed to say 2004?

    November 22, 2011 at 1:49 pm | Reply
  71. Truth Seeker

    Testing.... is it allowed to say Siemens?

    November 22, 2011 at 1:48 pm | Reply
  72. Truth Seeker

    Why are my comments in moderator limbo (for days)????

    November 22, 2011 at 1:45 pm | Reply
  73. Dan Burtt

    I'm a solar expert – here's my reaction... Trial and error is a time consuming scientific method of discovery that caused the invention of the light bulb. The evolution of nature basically occurs based on trial and error. Since trees feed on sunlight, they have evolved to collect as much as they can and have had millions of years of trial and error to work with. I think it’s a brilliantly simple idea in itself that we look to nature for answers, given how much time it can save us! With that said, certain trees grow better in different climate – so I would suggest to Aidan that he not consider a “one size fits all” application, but rather match the application to the trees that flourish in each region. Impressive presentation – glad he’s American!

    November 22, 2011 at 1:36 pm | Reply
    • Book'EmDan0

      Trees have NOT evolved to collect as much sunlight as they can. Their design is a compromise between many things including gathering adequate sunlight while having a large enough surface area to contact the air to take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. And, you're comparing the many factors that determine which trees live where with the main geometric issue for a solar panel, which is simply to have sunlight hit it?

      November 22, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Reply
    • nelane

      Plus a tree have more function of the leafs not just collecting sun light.
      all this it is just "politically corect " lol SENSATIONAL

      November 23, 2011 at 1:29 am | Reply
    • Ben

      I actually work in the solar energy industry, and it's painfully obvious that this experiment is nonsense. If a professional had come up with it, it would be ridiculed. Photovoltaic technology has nothing to do with trees, or their structure, or photosynthesis. The best (and proven) way to maximize the energy production from a PV array is to aim every module directly at the sun.
      You sir, are not a solar expert.

      November 23, 2011 at 12:19 pm | Reply
  74. Jose

    Maybe this kid should have gotten the billion dollar loan instead of Solyndra.

    November 22, 2011 at 1:25 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Never happen. He's not corrupt – YET !!

      November 22, 2011 at 2:44 pm | Reply
      • Yuri

        Hey, I found this tonhciug story about a man who rebuilt his broken relationship with his son A must read for any parent! Click on my name and take a look!

        February 21, 2012 at 8:19 pm |
  75. domwoolf

    Interesting that a kid can figure out solar panels when the government funded and supported companies waste a half billion dollars and go broke trying to do the same thing.

    November 22, 2011 at 11:32 am | Reply
    • mdmann

      He has not figured out anything. The scientific merit of this work was already debunked a while ago. CNN is just slow on the uptake, or didn't bother to fully research. The harm this story is doing to the practice of science is very disturbing to me. Most of the people commenting on this board don't have a clue about science, and are lauding this kid for doing something he didn't actually do. This isn't right. He is to be commended for having such an interest in science and technology, but he has not done a valid scientific experiment, and it has not led to any great breakthrough in solar panel design.

      November 22, 2011 at 2:16 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Unfortunately the overzealous CNN "moderators" (i.e. censors) won't let me reply or say most of what I want to say about this (but see my other comments for clues).

      November 22, 2011 at 2:45 pm | Reply
  76. credit

    His model does not take into considering the volume of space a tree design would take. He is comparing a tree to a flat panel.. That is not an apples to apples comparson. How could you possibly collect more light on a 2 dimensional surface than a flat panel that occupys 100% of the physical space. His model is of comprised of several panels which is not what is currently used.

    Sure is a great idea, but im sure the army of engineers out there would have devolped a more efficent design if it were applicable.

    He is being used to promote science in a younger generation which is commendable, but not revolutionary.

    November 22, 2011 at 11:26 am | Reply
    • WENDY

      My money is on the kid! No wonder we are in the shape we are in if it is going to take an "army of engineers"....geez! I think that says it all....

      November 22, 2011 at 11:45 am | Reply
    • Idea

      The actual concept would utilize space more efficently, and is based on a three dimensional surface

      November 22, 2011 at 12:06 pm | Reply
    • devin

      This story came out a few months ago and then was subsequently debunked (the experimental methodology used was bogus – he measured open circuit voltage and not power production). It is great that the kid had some interesting ideas about how to arrange the solar panels and decided to test them. Its also OK that he got the technical aspects wrong, since he isn't a professional scientist or engineer. What is not right is that this story has been repeatedly re-posted in the media, when a quick Google search would be enough show that the conclusions were not true.

      November 22, 2011 at 2:30 pm | Reply
  77. Caveman

    It's interesting to note that trees are a model for collecting sunlight. They've been here for millions of years and are the most efficient solar collectors out there. WHY WOULDN'T WE want to mimic the solar absorbing process of trees? .. The person who is doggin' this kid out needs to go have his head checked. Kid, keep pushing the idea, it's grand, and mother nature is the most advanced scientist of all. We should be so lucky to have such a great example of efficiency to learn from.

    November 22, 2011 at 8:57 am | Reply
    • Book'EmDan0

      Nonsense. Do you really think that more sunlight hits a tree, as can be determined by the size of its shadow, than would hit all of the same tree's leaves if they were spread out in a single layer on the ground? A tree's leaves collect enough sunlight while having sufficient contact with the air to take in carbon dioxide and give off oxygen. A tree is more like a model for an air filter than for a solar panel.

      November 22, 2011 at 8:30 pm | Reply
      • msaprilr

        Actually you are wrong friend. More sunlight DOES hit the leaves when they are tilted this way than when they are laying flat on the ground. You are forgetting that A) leaves have two sides, B) the sun is not directly overhead for very long and C) the angle of the sun becomes more or less extreme depending on the time of year. This design is not unique to trees either. It's a quite popular design among sun-loving perennials.

        November 22, 2011 at 10:42 pm |
      • Book'EmDan0

        MsApril, actually you are wrong. You are ignoring that A) the sun can't hit both sides of a leaf at the same time, B) the sun's position throughout the day, and C) throughout the year, affect the direction and intensity of the sun's radiation, both of which affect the amount of radiation hitting anything in any orientation. Furthermore, you are ignoring that many factors affect a plant's shape, with sunlight collection being but one of those factors.

        Picture yourself sitting on a photon from the sun approaching a tree. Ignoring reflected radiation, which is a relatively small amount, the maximum radiation that will hit the tree is proportional to the projected surface area perpendicular to the direction of travel of the photon. That is, proportional to the imaginary flat surface area that you would see within the outline of the tree. This area is less than the area you would see if the leaves were all spread out in one layer on the ground, especially if each leaf tracked to be perpendicular to the direction of travel of the photon. When the sun is very low in the sky, the tree's shadow may cover more ground than the spread out leaves would, but by that time the radiation is so diminished from travelling through so much of the earth's atmosphere that it won't generate much power no matter what the orientation is.

        As other posters have stated, to maximize the sunlight hitting a given number of solar panels you can't beat a flat array of tracking panels.

        November 23, 2011 at 12:20 am |
  78. JB

    Way to go!, innovative idea's like this, will help and will hopefully inspire many more like this young man.

    November 22, 2011 at 8:38 am | Reply
  79. Pat

    Guess everything went down hill for Jonathan Taylor Thomas after Home Improvement went off the air...

    November 22, 2011 at 7:47 am | Reply
  80. NORMAJEAN123

    WAY TO GO KID! I now understand Fibonacci! Really! I am so bad at math so this feels great. It is so refreshing to see this, so do not let some disgruntled adults give you any grief.

    November 22, 2011 at 6:22 am | Reply
  81. ShootingStars

    BTW, do you know the secret to long life? Never say die! ;-D Godspeed, Aidan! Remember Einstein said imagination is more important than knowledge for imagination is unlimited! Never grow old, and your mind will never close!

    November 21, 2011 at 8:12 pm | Reply
  82. ShootingStars

    Yup, you naysyaers were sure right all along. The Wright Brothers will never fly, and computers will never catch on. Dare to dream, our 13-yr old innovator. One day, all your dreams will come true. And, they once thought there could not be pentagonal crystals, either. Lo and behold, the dude is a Nobel Prize winner!

    November 21, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Reply
    • nonresponsive

      the best thing for the environment is to let actual trees grow, then cut them down, and use the wood for houses, boxes, skis, teeth, etc. Then replant more trees in their place. Each tree absorbs tons of greenhouse gases and carbon. Just don't burn it.

      November 21, 2011 at 8:24 pm | Reply
  83. Truth Seeker

    How come it's taking hours for comments to be moderated? How come 90% of mine are in moderator limbo?

    November 21, 2011 at 7:08 pm | Reply
  84. Derrick Tudor

    I hope this kid becomes successful. We need fresh ideas to kick start this economy. We need more people like him instead of people who are stuck with the same old problems by trying to copy someone else's and trying to improve on them.

    November 21, 2011 at 6:24 pm | Reply
  85. engineer long time

    He tried. He learned. If he keeps this up, we may have to call him Dr. one day. It does not mater if it works or not. Like all experiments, it has to be tried. That is the inventive spirit we need more of.

    November 21, 2011 at 5:00 pm | Reply
    • Truth Seeker

      Not being allowed to reply or comment relating to a much more serious error that was made several years ago (moderators won't let me).

      November 22, 2011 at 2:04 pm | Reply
  86. Truth Seeker

    It is not advisable to credit young people with major technological advances because it rarely proves true. It is fine to have science contests for young people as long as the aims and expectations are made clear to both the participants and the public. Then expectations and claims should also be keep very modest (unless thoroughly vetted). Maybe only once in a decade do young people come along who legitimately can make bold claims of scientific breakthroughs (that is why Nobel Prizes have yet to be awarded to anyone under the age of 25).

    November 21, 2011 at 4:41 pm | Reply
    • fred

      You are such a buzz kill. You probably have a doctorate and have never done anything out of academia. You wish you could think up something that actually applies to real life.

      November 21, 2011 at 5:42 pm | Reply
      • Truth Seeker

        You are close! I am not in academia but I have worked in several scientific fields and have several patents and some successful inventions but have never been written up, or placed on a pedestal by the media (from which it is all too easy to fall down). Usually, it's what you do after the age of 20 that really counts.

        November 22, 2011 at 1:34 pm |
    • Derrick Tudor

      Have you ever thought that it's kids like this who are the one who are the most inventive? They see and think of things that we don't. Their minds are not cluttered with mathimatical formulas. The first time people like Edison invented something, it didn't work so they kept at it until it did. Give him a break. His idea may work just fine. The sun doesn't stay still so why should the solar panels all be facing the same direction? Put down your books and learn something new!

      November 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
      • Truth Seeker

        Then often they just go to work for Wall Street or go into medicine (as doctors – not researchers). Ideas are easy to come by but R&D is HARD (real hard) and can take decades. It will remain to be seen how many young people will want to make the sacrifices needed to become top-notch scientists and inventors (I have been at it for over 30). Coming up with ideas is the fun part!

        November 22, 2011 at 1:37 pm |
  87. Joe

    Check this out, I just happened to read about this today.

    November 21, 2011 at 4:20 pm | Reply
    • greg

      I support a kid's curiosity, but agree that this isn't novel or successful. The idea of solar panels as leaves is so old as to be forgetable - in fact, it's already been productized: (not sure if this is for sale yet, but it's a cool concept... regardless, would you pause on that webpage and think the designer had solved the world's energy problems?)

      November 21, 2011 at 6:20 pm | Reply
      • Truth Seeker

        Can't reply or comment relating to a much more serious error that was made several years ago (moderators won't let me).

        November 22, 2011 at 2:07 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      Not allowed to reply or comment relating to a much more serious error that was made several years ago (moderators won't let me).

      November 22, 2011 at 2:06 pm | Reply
  88. Eric

    The real story here is about how a group of people who show know better got so excited about a talented 13 year old kid that they forgot to properly check the results of the experiment. If you check here: you'll see the museum has admitted that the experiment was not a success.

    Of course the media loves a story likes this, and in the 24/7 news cycle fact checking just slows things down.

    November 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply
    • Eric

      Show know better -> Should know better

      November 21, 2011 at 4:02 pm | Reply
    • KeithTexas

      People named Eric are often the first to discount any advancements made by other people and often guilty of trying to look like they are the smartest guy in the room.

      November 21, 2011 at 4:32 pm | Reply
      • Eric 2

        It's not difficult to look like the smartest person when you are.

        November 21, 2011 at 6:44 pm |
    • J Heather

      Well, Eric, that is an interesting article. But essentially incorrect.

      You see, he wasn't asking whether solar panels can produce more power when arranged in his Fibonacci pattern. He was asking why trees have that pattern, and specifically whether it gives leaves a larger amount of sunlight. His measuring of voltage, not power, was precisely right to measure the amount of sunlight the panels received. Voltage gave him just what he needed, a signal proportional to the area of the panel hit by sunlight.

      Which was the question he asked.


      Had he measured power output his result would have been contaminated by the strength of that sunlight, but that is another question.

      And he is going to become a damn good scientist I reckon.

      November 22, 2011 at 1:49 am | Reply
      • devin

        He integrated voltage over time, which is meaningless (it does not correspond to the proportion of the panel illuminated). Closed circuit current is proportional to incident photon count (google the photoelectric effect) . In any case, he clearly makes claims about solar panel efficiency, which is related to the ability of the array to deliver power, not voltage:

        "is 20 to 50% more efficient than traditional solar arrays"

        November 22, 2011 at 2:53 pm |
    • Truth Seeker

      Not being permitted to reply or comment about a much more serious error that was made several years ago (moderators won't let me).

      November 22, 2011 at 2:11 pm | Reply
  89. Thayer

    This is news, why? To me at least, it seems simple logic that a flat array of adjustable panels would be unbeatable. In what way could a tree shaped solar array take in and produce more energy? Many of the panels would be obstructed from the rays at different times. That's obviously not cost effective to begin with. So, here we have people boosting up a kid who invented something that doesn't work as well as what we already have.
    The only thing worse than an uneducated idiot is an educated one. It appears there are quite a few of those around this kid.

    November 21, 2011 at 3:17 pm | Reply
    • GT66

      LOL. In one post you've shown the world that trees and 13 y.o. kids are smarter than you. Good job!

      November 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm | Reply
      • Dude

        The results were proven false several months ago.

        November 21, 2011 at 6:46 pm |
      • devin

        Yeah, the kid's findings were definitely proved false...

        November 22, 2011 at 2:55 pm |
    • Adam Smith

      It's really the AMNH's fault for not doing due diligence in verifying the boy's claims before awarding him anything. A quick look at the boy's work reveals that his experiment not only doesn't prove his hypothesis, it doesn't even test it. It doesn't take a genius to figure out that if you're trying to find out how to more efficiently generate power, that you need to measure power generated. This criterion is so straightforward and obvious it's frankly amazing that no one caught the mistake. Trying to determine solar cell performance from the voltage of the unloaded cells is like trying to tell how powerful your car's engine is by measuring its idle RPM–it is fundamentally flawed.

      I'm disappointed in all the adults that congratulated the heck out of this kid without checking his work. They've let him be publicly embarrassed, which is not really great encouragement.

      November 21, 2011 at 3:48 pm | Reply
      • Truth Seeker

        Moderators won't let me reply or comment about a much more serious error that was made several years ago ("2004" SC).

        November 22, 2011 at 2:13 pm |
    • No

      It seems to you, well that is why he is using mathematics and measuring the energy collected from his solar panel, and you are regurgitating an opinion. Give the (13 year old) kid a break.

      November 21, 2011 at 3:49 pm | Reply
      • Eric

        I think a good analogy is that you want to figure out how much water flows through a pipe, and instead of measuring the volume of water, you measure the water pressure.

        November 21, 2011 at 4:04 pm |
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