“I am the Lorax. I speak for the trees. I speak for the trees for they have no tongues.” –Dr. Seuss
Seventh-grader Aidan Dwyer began his scientific paper, “The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequences in Trees,” with this quote from The Lorax. The 13-year-old student seems to have taken up where Seuss left off. Aidan is speaking for the trees, sharing their methodology for gathering sunlight, and recognizing how that methodology can be used in practical applications.
From his paper:
“Collecting sunlight is key to the survival of a tree. Leaves are the solar panels of trees, collecting sunlight for photosynthesis. Collecting the most sunlight is the difference between life and death.”
Aidan noticed a spiral pattern in the trees. Through research, he learned about Leonardo of Pisano, more commonly known as Fibonacci, a 13th-century mathematician credited with being first to notice the mathematical pattern now referred to as the Fibonacci sequence. Generations of scientists have noted that the sequence is repeated throughout nature, from the spiral of a seashell to the swirling stars of a galaxy.
Aidan wondered if solar panels arranged in accordance with the Fibonacci sequence would be more efficient than the flat panels typically used on rooftops.
Using PVC tubing and small solar cells, Aiden built a structure, a kind of “solar tree.” He also built a conventional solar array for comparison. The data was uploaded to a computer.
Aidan found that the solar tree produced 20% more electricity, collecting 2½ more hours of sunlight each day. When conditions were the most unfavorable for conventional arrays; that is, during the depths of December, the solar tree produced an incredible 50% more electricity than the traditional model.
“My conclusions suggest that the Fibonacci pattern in trees makes an evolutionary difference,” Aidan’s paper concludes. Considering the implications of Aidan’s research, it’s a remarkably understated conclusion.
As Aiden noted in his paper, in addition to increasing the efficiency of solar power systems – 20% is a seriously significant amount – solar arrays built into a tree-like structure would take up less ground area. They could, in fact, be “planted” along streets instead of street trees.
Aiden Dwyer is not the first to observe the benefits of tree-shaped technology, however. Dr. Klaus Lackner, director of the Lenfest Center for Sustainable Energy at Columbia University, has been developing a carbon dioxide scrubber shaped like a tree. Surprisingly, Dr. Lackner received his inspiration from another young student: his daughter.
For a science project, eighth-grader Claire demonstrated that effective carbon dioxide capture was feasible through the use of a fish pump and sodium hydroxide, a discovery that led Dr. Lackner to devote himself to finding the most efficient method for extracting carbon dioxide, eventually leading to the tree-shaped design.
Those naysayers decrying the possibility of discoveries that can lead to solving the world’s environmental challenges might do well to look to the young for inspiration, remembering another famous Dr. Seuss quote:
“A person’s a person, no matter how small.”