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The Standard

Seeds of hope

Written By: - Date published: 9:35 am, August 21st, 2011 - 19 comments
Categories: energy, science, sustainability - Tags:

I’m the worrying kind, and not too optimistic about our collective future in the medium to long term. So it’s nice every now and then to find a hopeful little snippet like this one, as featured on Slashdot:

An anonymous reader tips news of 7th grader Aidan Dwyer, who used phyllotaxis — the way leaves are arranged on plant stems in nature — as inspiration to arrange an array of solar panels in a way that generates 20-50% more energy than a uniform, flat panel array. Aidan wrote,“I designed and built my own test model, copying the Fibonacci pattern of an oak tree. I studied my results with the compass tool and figured out the branch angles. The pattern was about 137 degrees and the Fibonacci sequence was 2/5. Then I built a model using this pattern from PVC tubing. In place of leaves, I used PV solar panels hooked up in series that produced up to 1/2 volt, so the peak output of the model was 5 volts. The entire design copied the pattern of an oak tree as closely as possible. … The Fibonacci tree design performed better than the flat-panel model. The tree design made 20% more electricity and collected 2 1/2 more hours of sunlight during the day. But the most interesting results were in December, when the Sun was at its lowest point in the sky. The tree design made 50% more electricity, and the collection time of sunlight was up to 50% longer!”

There is so much to love about this story.  The creativity of one so young.  The neat maths that underlies the physical world.  The immensely practical result. And the timely reminder – follow nature and you won’t go wrong. Bravo Aidan Dwyer.

19 comments on “Seeds of hope”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Absolutely cool. This is exactly the kind of thinking that works.

  2. ianmac 2

    Smart kid. But ahhh! What were his scores on National Standards? That would be far more important than messing about with oak trees!
    Yeah. I know. American lad but vaguely, my point is that inventive creative genius trumps pedantic assessments every day.
    And solar energy must be the greatest hope for energy collection. Wind is limited.

    • Phaedrus 2.1

      Dead right. What were his test scores? What were his school’s test scores? How did the school rank on the league table? Hope his teacher got merit pay for this? The school principal too, of course? This putting learning into action stuff is nonsense. We all know that what’s written on paper is vital, so it can be proved that he met the standard. Of course, now he’s doing this, the next step to be ‘aspirational’ and ‘raise the bar’ so that his ‘achievement can raised further”.

    • SHG 2.2

      Yes, my first thought when reading the parent article was “there has to be an angle here through which National’s education policy can be attacked”. Congratulations to you sir on finding it and posting it so quickly.

  3. Lanthanide 3

    If you read the comment threads, there are many very serious concerns about the quality of the research done: the type of panel he’s using is a cheap one and therefore reaches maximum power output quickly, effectively capping the amount of power you can get from an individual cell (rough example: a cell partially in shade will generate 50% of the capacity of a fully lit one, when really it should be more like 20-30%), the photo shows the setups apparently outside in a yard somewhere with trees that will cast different amounts of shadows on the two setups, he’s not actually measuring the correct value, etc etc.

    So in terms of research output, this is slightly interesting, but I don’t think it’s a breakthrough that no one else has considered before. More likely it was considered, found to not be very useful in a proper test environment, and discarded.

    Good to see someone so young so interested in science, though.

    • Bill 3.1

      ffs lanthanide!

      The two arrays are as near as dammit in the same position and could never be in exactly the same position given their different construction (one being more vertiginous than the other).

      As for the partially shaded cell producing 50% of the power of an unshaded cell rather than 20-30%, well it’s the same for both constructions, so the comparison between the two holds up…unless you’re going to say that the conventional construction was deliberately located to attract more shade. (x number of cells positioned ‘so’ collect y amount of shade and produce z amount of electricity compared to x number of cells positioned ‘so’ collecting y (minus) amount of shade and so producing z (plus) amount of electricity)

      And didn’t he say that by mimmicking the architecture of the tree, he discovered that it minimised the effect of the shade it cast on itself or that was cast on it?

      And even if he has got some things wrong, so what? Is that a reason to condemn him outright by offering up faint praise? By the attitude you display in your comment I’d pity any poor bugger who might be brought up in your care.

      • Lanthanide 3.1.1

        “As for the partially shaded cell producing 50% of the power of an unshaded cell rather than 20-30%, well it’s the same for both constructions, so the comparison between the two holds up…unless you’re going to say that the conventional construction was deliberately located to attract more shade. (x number of cells positioned ‘so’ collect y amount of shade and produce z amount of electricity compared to x number of cells positioned ‘so’ collecting y (minus) amount of shade and so producing z (plus) amount of electricity)”

        You’ve missed my point, and the point of the research. The idea of the research is that instead of just putting the panels on a flat surface where they either get 100% or 0% sun (and a short window in between when the sun moves around), they will instead receive somewhere between 0% and 100% for a lot longer duration.

        Thus the total capacity of the cell matters a lot: if in 100% sunlight the cell generates a maximum of say 5V (because it is a cheap cell and therefore total capacity is capped), and under 25% sunlight it generates 2.5V, clearly the maths doesn’t add up. Therefore you’d get the same results from running 20 cells at 25% capacity as you would running 10 at 100% capacity, when normally you should expect 40 cells at 25% = 10 cells at 100%. If those 20 cells are receiving anything over 25% each, then you’d be generating more power than the 10 cells at 100% setup.

        I may not have explained myself perfectly clearly, but this *is* a problem with his setup, and this simply illustrates why it is difficult to do research that gives meaningful results: it’s easy to overlook aspects of the test which you haven’t considered.

        “And even if he has got some things wrong, so what? Is that a reason to condemn him outright by offering up faint praise?”

        Because many people, including those on Slashdot, look at the headline and the article and go “wow, we can make solar power so much more efficient! this will solve lots of problems!” when actually the research doesn’t justify such a conclusion. R0b himself is leaning towards such a reaction himself: “The immensely practical result”.

        If someone came out with a magical fuel additive that claimed 10% extra mileage for your car, you’d be right to be skeptical. It’s no different when a child does some remarkably insightful research – don’t take their claims at face value.

        “By the attitude you display in your comment I’d pity any poor bugger who might be brought up in your care.”

        Part of the reason I never intend to have children, I’d simply do a rubbish job. Also the best thing you can do to save the environment isn’t to use eco lightbulbs or buy organic or cycle to work. The best thing you can do to save the environment is not to have children.

        • Bill 3.1.1.1

          Okay. Fair points. ( I get where you’re coming from with the cells and why a straight comparison between the two arrays isn’t accurate in terms of determining comparitive efficiency)

          Not that I was taking things at face value. My hesitation (cough) stemmed from the weight given to the branch configuration. Branches grow as much to give trees stability in wind as for any other reason. So I can’t quite understand the focus. Yes, main branches have sub branches that support leaves and it ‘makes sense’ for them not to obstruct one another too much. But that could have much to do with wind factors than anything else and be a happy coincidence regards light penetration.

          And leaves aren’t fixed in position. They move with the light. Anyway, it stuck me that the configuration/shape of the leaves themselves (whether on trees or other plants) might be worth looking at in terms of solar panel design. If there is an underlying commonality that can be replicated or mimmicked…..

          Anyway, the guy deserves credit for looking outside the square.

        • r0b 3.1.1.2

          R0b himself is leaning towards such a reaction himself: “The immensely practical result”.

          I’d be very surprised if the results don’t hold up in practice.  Once you stop to think about it (as Aidan apparently did) it makes perfect sense that evolution would have converged on an optimal way of arranging solar energy collectors (aka leaves).

    • mik e 3.2

      National will try and show it is the party of innovation with the election by trotting out its old war horses like Ruth Richardson putting on a good media front mean while National has slashed and burnt the innovation sector by cutting money and playing politics with this sector only reinstating innovation funding at less than half the previous amount after a 2year hiatus making it look like they have been innovative when in fact they have been very destructive to the innovation sector.Then when the media get stuck into them they trot out some small scale good news stories like the old Bolger trick.An example is wool research that had been undertaken at Lincoln university the two world class scientists that were doing research on new uses for wool had their funding completely cut and a third world country South Africa new their value and have snapped them up . The break throughs they had made have been put aside because this National so cold farmers party wouldn’t put any money into marketing these significant breakthroughs . Now South Africa is getting all their Knowledge for next to nothing .After the millions we as tax payers have invested Typical bean brain bean counters.

  4. Hilary 4

    Knowing absolutely nothing about the boy (who would be about 12?) I wonder whether he has Aspergers. If so he has probably struggled with school routines and requirements (such as in the US the No Child Left Behind national testing) and may even be home schooled. Being so bright and different risks causing anxiety and depression so it is great that he seems to have a supportive family who nurture his strengths and abilities.

    On the other hand it could be the backstory for Sheldon on the Big Bang Theory.

  5. Colonial Viper 5

    The brilliant intelligence of mother nature strikes again. The lad is smart too.

  6. Afewknowthetruth 6

    Ah. The economy of hope and delusion, founded on ignorance.

    I too was a once a believer. Now I know that solar panels have a limited life and their efficiency declines over time. And battery systems have an even more limited life.

    Technology isn’t going to save us. It’s too late. Decades of business as ususal and population overshoot have dug a hole too deep.

    Undoubtedly the culture of denial will remain intact until the financial markets collapse – probably later this year the way things are looking, though some more fraudulent financial props could hold things together for as long as another 15 months.

    • r0b 6.1

      I understand where you’re coming from Afew, and you may even be right (though much too rushed in your time frames).  But even if the battle is already lost, we should not (in my opinion) stop fighting.  New research and new ideas are always worth pursuing.

  7. Oligarkey 7

    AFKTT

    So what’s the plan? Is there a way we can find out all the people who have denied peak oil and environmental issues for the last 10 years and use them as a resource? mmmm – National Party Soylent Green patties

    Seriously though i think there’s at least 5 years before the expletive really hits the fan i.e. 15-30% unemployment in the west, though it’s impossible to know really. Also, i don’t think we’ll have mass starvation in the west for a long time. We’re just going to have to go to a more vegetarian diet.

  8. erentz 8

    Sorry, there is no scientific breakthrough here, just bad science:

    http://www.theatlanticwire.com/technology/2011/08/blog-debunks-13-year-old-scientists-solar-power-breakthrough/41520/#.Tk_v5AAtGZw.reddit

    Unfortunately the original blog post was removed.

  9. Oligarkey 9

    …Also AFKTT

    It may just be that we will have to revert to some kind of cuba-model in a less energy-intense, financially frozen economy. That would just mean lots more expensive manufactured goods, and less of them, less traveling, more public transport, fewer chain stores, plus lots more manual labour. Certainly, the current paradigm would have to fall over once we get up in the region of 30% unemployment, but that’s not necessarily the end of the world. It’s the densely populated poorer countries that i’m really concerned for.

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    In 2010, National rammed the Electoral (Disqualification of Sentenced Prisoners) Amendment Bill through Parliament. Paul Quinn’s Member’s Bill existed because Paul Quinn thought anyone who’d been imprisoned was a serious offender, and serious offenders had ‘forfeited’ their right to vote.… ...
    GreensBy David Clendon MP
    2 days ago
  • Mainfreight ‘appalled’ by Government’s rail madness
    The Government has been given a serve by New Zealand-based international trucking and logistics firm Mainfreight which says it lacks a national transport strategy, and has treated rail badly, Labour's Transport spokesperson Phil Twyford says. The company has told shareholders it… ...
    2 days ago
  • National’s Health and Safety Reform Bill: less safety and fewer rights at...
    The New Zealand Council of Trade Unions is embarking on a campaign to fight the changes that weaken the Health and Safety Reform bill. As part of the campaign the CTU has organised vigils with the display of 291 crosses… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche MP
    3 days ago
  • All options need to be put on meat sector table
    Farmers must be given every assurance that all potential risks have been considered before Silver Fern Farms opens its door to foreign equity, Labour’s Primary Industries spokesperson Damien O’Connor says. “The ongoing saga involving the meat sector and amalgamation has… ...
    3 days ago
  • Flag the referendum if 50% or more don’t vote
    Labour has moved to have the second flag referendum canned if the first attracts fewer than half the eligible number of voters, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says. “John Key has already wasted more than $8 million on his vanity project… ...
    3 days ago
  • 90,000 cars reclassified in botched ACC ratings
    New figures obtained by Labour show the ACC Minister’s botched motor vehicle levy system has resulted in 90,000 vehicles having to be reclassified so far – at a cost of $6 million, Labour’s ACC spokesperson Sue Moroney says. “Nikki Kaye’s… ...
    3 days ago
  • Brutal health cuts confirmed, crucial services suffer
    Chronic under-funding by National has seen the health budget slashed by $1.7 billion in just five years, Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King says. A report by Infometrics, commissioned by Labour, shows health funding has been cut in four of the… ...
    3 days ago
  • Meth ring under Serco’s nose
    The news that two Serco inmates have been arrested for helping to run a methamphetamine ring from prison should be the final straw and see their contract cancelled, says Labour’s Corrections Spokesperson Kelvin Davis. “National has stood by Serco despite… ...
    4 days ago
  • Ministers failing women and their own targets
    New figures showing just five Ministers have met the Government’s own reduced targets for appointing women to state sector boards is evidence National is failing Kiwi women, Labour’s Women’s Affairs spokesperson Sue Moroney says. “The Ministry for Women’s 2015 Gender… ...
    4 days ago
  • Charges up for some as funding up for grabs
    A proposal being considered by the Government would see some people having to pay more for health care and district health boards forced to fight amongst themselves to fund regional health services, Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King says “Information leaked… ...
    4 days ago
  • Stop experimenting on kids
    The trouble with the Charter school model is that it is a publicly funded experiment on children. The National Government has consistently put its desire to open charter schools ahead of the safety of the children in them, ignoring repeated… ...
    GreensBy Catherine Delahunty MP
    5 days ago
  • Bank puts the squeeze on mid Canterbury farmers
    News that an unnamed bank in Ashburton has put a receiver on notice over financially vulnerable farmers will send a chill through rural New Zealand, says Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson. “The Government needs to work with  New Zealand’s banks… ...
    5 days ago
  • Key is trading away New Zealand land and homes
    John Key yesterday admitted what National dishonestly refused to confirm in Parliament last week – he is trading away New Zealand’s right to control who buys our homes and land, says Opposition leader Andrew Little. “The Prime Minister must now… ...
    5 days ago
  • Razor gang takes scalpel to health
    Plans by the Government to take a scalpel to democratically elected health boards are deceitful and underhand, coming just months after an election during which they were never signalled, Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King says “Leaked documents reveals a radical… ...
    5 days ago
  • Spin lines show a department in chaos
    Corrections Spin Doctors sending their place holder lines to journalists instead of responding to serious allegations shows the scale of chaos at the department over the Serco scandal, says Labour’s Corrections Spokesperson Kelvin Davis. “As more and more serious allegations… ...
    7 days ago
  • Court ruling shows law should never have been passed
    A High Court ruling that a law banning prisoners from voting is inconsistent with a properly functioning democracy should be a wake-up call for the Government, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says. In an unprecedented ruling Justice Paul Heath has… ...
    1 week ago
  • Judicial Review Gamble Pays Off for Problem Gambling Foundation
    Congratulations are due to the Problem Gambling Foundation (PGFNZ) who have won their legal case around how the Ministry of Health decided to award their contracts for problem gambling services to another service provider. Congratulations are due not just for… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche MP
    1 week ago
  • Environmental Protection Agency appoints GE advocate as new CEO
    This week, the Environmental Protection Authority Amendment Bill passed its first reading in Parliament. The Bill puts protection of the environment into the core purpose of the Environmental Protection Authority. This month, Dr Allan Freeth, the former Chief Executive of… ...
    GreensBy Steffan Browning MP
    1 week ago
  • Charanpreet Dhaliwal death demands genuine health and safety reform
    The killing of a security guard on his first night on the job is exactly the kind of incident that National’s watered-down health and safety bill won’t prevent, says Te Atatu MP Phil Twyford. The coronial inquest into 22-year-old Charanpreet… ...
    1 week ago
  • Arbitrary sanctions hit children hardest
    Increasing numbers of single parents are being penalised under a regime that is overly focussed on sanctions rather than getting more people into work, Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni says. “Figures, obtained through Parliamentary questions show 3000 more sanctions,… ...
    1 week ago
  • Hekia just won’t face the facts
    Hekia Parata’s decision to keep troubled Whangaruru Charter school open despite being presented with a catalogue of failure defies belief, goes against official advice and breaks a Government promise to close these schools if they were failing, says Labour’s Education… ...
    1 week ago
  • No more silent witnesses
    Yesterday I attended the launch of a new initiative developed by and for Asian, Middle eastern and African youth to support young people to name and get support if there is domestic violence at home. The impact on children of… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    1 week ago
  • Single Use Plastic Bags campaign – Some wins and some green-washing
    As we near the end of Plastic Free July I’m nearing the conclusion of my Say No To Plastic Bag tour when I will have completed all 30 of my public meetings. The campaign was designed to work with community… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche MP
    1 week ago
  • Single Use Plastic Bags campaign – Some wins and some green-washing
    As we near the end of Plastic Free July I’m nearing the conclusion of my Say No To Plastic Bag tour when I will have completed all 30 of my public meetings. The campaign was designed to work with community… ...
    GreensBy Denise Roche MP
    1 week ago
  • Minister must take responsibility for problem gambling debacle
    The Government’s handling of the Problem Gambling Foundation’s axing in a cost-cutting exercise has been ham-fisted and harmful to some of the most vulnerable people in society, Associate Health Labour spokesperson David Clark says.“Today’s court ruling overturning the axing of… ...
    1 week ago
  • Labour will not support TPP if it undermines NZ sovereignty
    The Labour Party will not support the Trans Pacific Partnership Agreement unless key protections for New Zealanders are met, Opposition leader Andrew Little says.“Labour supports free trade. However, we will not support a TPP agreement that undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty. ...
    1 week ago
  • Coleman can’t ignore latest warnings
    Resident doctors have advised that a severe staffing shortage at North Shore Hospital is putting patients’ lives at risk, Labour’s Health spokesperson Annette King says. “They say a mismatch between staffing levels and patient workloads at North Shore has… ...
    1 week ago
  • ACC must remove barriers to appeals
    The Government must prioritise removing barriers to justice for ACC claimants following a damning report by Acclaim Otago, Labour’s ACC spokesperson Sue Moroney says. “ACC Minister Nikki Kaye must urgently scrap her flawed plan to remove claimant’s right to redress… ...
    1 week ago
  • Six months’ paid parental leave back on the agenda
    Six months’ paid parental leave is back on the agenda and a step closer to reality for Kiwi parents after Labour’s new Member’s Bill was pulled from today’s ballot, the Bill’s sponsor and Labour MP Sue Moroney says. “My Bill… ...
    1 week ago
  • Sole parents at risk of having no income
    New requirements for sole parents to undertake a reapplication process after a year is likely to mean a large number will face benefit cancellations, but not because they have obtained work, Labour’s Social Development spokesperson Carmel Sepuloni says. “Increasing numbers… ...
    1 week ago
  • Juking the Welfare Stats Again
    Last week the government’s major initiative to combat child poverty (a paltry $25 increase) was exposed for what it is, a lie. The Government, through the Budget this year, claims to be engaging in the child poverty debate, but instead,… ...
    GreensBy Jan Logie MP
    1 week ago
  • OCR rate cut a result of flagging economy
    The Reserve Bank's decision to cut the Official Cash Rate to 3 per cent shows there is no encore for the so-called 'rock star' economy, says Labour's Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson.   "Today's interest rate cut comes off the back… ...
    1 week ago
  • Reboot to an innovation economy, an Internet economy and a clean economy
    In my short 33 years on this planet we’ve seen phenomenal technological, economic and social change, and it’s realistic to expect the next 33 will see even more, even faster change. You can see it in the non-descript warehouse near… ...
    GreensBy Gareth Hughes MP
    1 week ago
  • Bill that puts the environment into the EPA passes first hurdle
    A Bill that puts the environment squarely into legislation governing the Environmental Protection Authority passed its first reading today, says Meka Whaitiri.  “I introduced this member’s bill as the current law doesn’t actually make protecting the environment a goal of… ...
    1 week ago
  • Key’s KiwiSaver deception exposed
    KiwiSaver statistics released today expose John Key's claim that the cutting of the kickstart payment "will not make a blind bit of difference to the number of people who join KiwiSaver” to be duplicitous, says Labour Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson.  “Official… ...
    1 week ago
  • Minimum Wage Amendment Bill to protect contractors
    All New Zealanders should be treated fairly at work. Currently, the law allows non-employment relationships to be used to get around the minimum wage. This is unfair, says Labour MP David Parker. “The Minimum Wage (Contractor Remuneration) Amendment Bill, a… ...
    1 week ago
  • Bill raises bar to protect Kiwi farmland
    The Government’s rubber-stamping of every one of the nearly 400 applications from overseas investors to buy New Zealand farm land over the last three years proves tougher laws are needed, Labour MP Phil Goff says. “In the last term of… ...
    1 week ago
  • Costly flag referendum should be dumped
    John Key must ditch the flag referendum before any more taxpayer money is wasted, Opposition Leader Andrew Little says. “Millions of dollars could be saved if the Prime Minister called a halt to this hugely expensive, and highly unpopular, vanity… ...
    1 week ago
  • Nats letting Serco off scot free
    Government members have prevented Parliament’s Law and Order select committee from getting answers out of a senior Serco director about the fight clubs being run at Mt Eden prisons, says Labour’s Corrections Spokesperson Kelvin Davis. “At today’s Law and Order… ...
    1 week ago
  • Charter school experiment turns into shambles
    The National Government’s charter school experiment has descended into chaos and it’s time for Hekia Parata to stop trying to cover up the full extent of the problems, Labour’s Education spokesperson Chris Hipkins says. “The Education Minister must release all… ...
    1 week ago

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