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13-Year-Old Uses Fibonacci Sequence For Solar Power Breakthrough

Soulskill posted about 3 years ago | from the one-one-two-three-five-eureka dept.

Power 410

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!"His work earned him a Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History and a provisional patent on the design.

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I hate kids like this! (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37140856)

They should be playing outside not being nerds!

Re:I hate kids like this! (3, Insightful)

asto21 (1797450) | about 3 years ago | (#37140886)

The two aren't mutually exclusive!

Damn straight! (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141058)

The two aren't mutually exclusive!

Thank you!

That's right. I wish we'd dump this whole "nerd" and "jock" dichotomy. There are quite a few talented scientists who also happened to be damn good athletes. I actually knew one who was a "jock' in college who went on for his PhD in Chemistry and did some ground breaking research in ceramic lasers and another one who competes regularly in triathlons.

I also know some "geeks" who don't do anything physical because they pigeon holed themselves as geeks and therefore sit on their asses playing video games for recreation.

I also knew some jocks who are so into sports, they went to medical school to become sports docs or nutritionists.

The Greeks knew of the mind/body connection and I wish we continued that tradition more in our society.

Cecil Rhodes would agree with you. (2)

dtmos (447842) | about 3 years ago | (#37141466)

One of the four standards by which prospective Rhodes Scholars are judged is, "energy to use one’s talents to the full, as exemplified by fondness for, and success in, sports."

Re:Damn straight! (3, Insightful)

Moryath (553296) | about 3 years ago | (#37141554)

Sigh.

If you look at his methodology, it's fundamentally flawed. RTFA and do your own analysis if you want.

During the "peak times" for his model, the flat arrangement was maxed out on production. Lots of lost energy. His "extended time of collection" is the sole basis for his supposed power-collection increases on the tree-like setup.

If you were to do the same experiment with PV cells that didn't max out, you'd find far superior collection from that arrangement. His "power gain" is an artifact of clipping, nothing more.

Again, FTFA: When a PV array is shaded by another object, like a tree or a house, the solar panels get backed up with electrons like cars in a traffic jam, and the current drops - UNDERSTANDING ELECTRICITY FAIL. Also, this is why people don't put their solar panels in the shade path of trees and houses.

Shade and bad weather like snow don't hurt it because the panels are not flat. - Somebody has never lived anywhere that has a real winter and seen snow-covered trees, be they deciduous or conifer or gynosperm. Deciduous trees don't gather sunlight during the winter, they DROP their leaves and enter a state similar to hibernation. That's why we have this word "deciduous [reference.com] " to describe them.

He sounds like a bright enough kid. But he's a kid. And it's sad that he's been given an award for some really shoddily conducted "research" by an organization that has no idea what the fuck they are talking about when it comes to power production, and were just happy someone photogenic published something cutesy about trees.

Re:I hate kids like this! (3, Insightful)

gatkinso (15975) | about 3 years ago | (#37140970)

Well, if you look at the photos, he WAS outside much of the time!

Re:I hate kids like this! (1)

ArsenneLupin (766289) | about 3 years ago | (#37141310)

wooosh!

Re:I hate kids like this! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141062)

And I hate trolls like you who bash innovation especially from young minds!

Re:I hate kids like this! (1)

JMJimmy (2036122) | about 3 years ago | (#37141532)

Somehow, I don't think the OP was being entirely serious.

Makes sense... (4, Insightful)

AngryDeuce (2205124) | about 3 years ago | (#37140876)

After all, it stands to reason that nature would have already worked out the most efficient way to collect solar energy eons ago.

Re:Makes sense... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37140948)

So nature will demand her for the patent? there is previous work...

Re:Makes sense... (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37140974)

From TFS

His work earned him a Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History and a provisional patent on the design.

Patenting natures design, anyone else thinks that something is wrong here?

Re:Makes sense... (4, Insightful)

lvangool (1393983) | about 3 years ago | (#37141066)

Actually, not really, no. If it was this obvious, he wouldn't be the first guy to think of this in 30 years to think of it. Think of it this way: a patent on practical nuclear fusion will not be denied because the stars came up with it first.

Re:Makes sense... (5, Informative)

agentgonzo (1026204) | about 3 years ago | (#37141150)

Unfortunately, I don't think he was the first to think of it either. Can anyone say prior art? http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3206/2807030740_25f3f2fa53.jpg [flickr.com]

Re:Makes sense... (0)

lvangool (1393983) | about 3 years ago | (#37141234)

True, but is there a prior patent?

Re:Makes sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141442)

IANAPL but would a prior patent matter? If someone tries to patent something they've seen before (not saying this is the case here), it surely is not novel and so should be denied. I imagine it depends on jurisdiction & applicable laws too.

Re:Makes sense... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141454)

In the US (at least for now), this doesn't matter (unlike the EU). Patents are "first to invent", not "first to file".

However, that particular example looks more artistic than actually practical (and based on a mathematical reasoning), so the kid probably still gets his patent.

Re:Makes sense... (3, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141430)

That does look like prior _art_, but not like prior _science_. The Fibonacci-tree is not about some random and good-looking arrangement of the solar panels to make a cool gadget to charge your iphone. It is about the exact, calculated arrangement of those panels to increase the efficiency.

Re:Makes sense... (1)

jhoegl (638955) | about 3 years ago | (#37141580)

Ahhhh, slashdot. Where we stomp on the balls of big corp and 7th graders alike.

This Slashdottian would rather kudos the kid for his ingenuity than wonder why we havent come up with it before.

Re:Makes sense... (1)

gameboyhippo (827141) | about 3 years ago | (#37141392)

Hmmm... If he can patent something God designed, maybe I could patent other things that He created. Let's see, I can patent washing your hands, eating healthy, the circle, etc...

Atheist trolls in 3... 2...

Re:Makes sense... (4, Insightful)

omnichad (1198475) | about 3 years ago | (#37141474)

Sure, why not - never stopped Monsanto....

Re:Makes sense... (1)

shoehornjob (1632387) | about 3 years ago | (#37141524)

From TFS

His work earned him a Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History and a provisional patent on the design.

Patenting natures design, anyone else thinks that something is wrong here?

He observed the design and tested it so why not patent it. You can't expect everything to be free.

Re:Makes sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141158)

Or oak trees were intelligently designed to optimum absorption of solar irradiance.

Re:Makes sense... (5, Interesting)

Atraxen (790188) | about 3 years ago | (#37141176)

Small nitpick - nature will optimize to a local minimum but not necessarily the global minimum. i.e. the plants might be stuck with the 'good enough' design instead of the fully optimized version. In this case, it appears that the 'natural' solution is pretty good and well optimized, especially with the low fluence case (i.e. the winter).

It's a minor but important nitpick because not all plants use the same spread and angles - I haven't read up on this, but it implies to me that there area niches in an ecosystem to have other solutions (kind of like the scavengers around the top predator - the predator might be really successful at getting it's food, but there might still be meat on the bone for the scavenger birds.) To bring the analogy back to topic, there might be other spacing/angle solutions that, alone, are worse, but with a secondary system placed interstitially, result in an overall more efficient solution. (Barely-thought about examples: placing a reflective base below, and having two-sided panels to catch other angles - or, perhaps studying the placement and angles of vine leaves can give an interstitial solution.)

So, locally minimized solutions can still be great, especially if a second-order approach cleans it up even further (as in the natural example.)

Re:Makes sense... (2)

Captain Hook (923766) | about 3 years ago | (#37141324)

The winter efficency surprised me a bit because the Oak loss all it's leafs at this time so it's design is not to maximise winter light collection, the fact that it does is just a coincidence.

Re:Makes sense... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141410)

The article said nothing about maximise, only that it performed better than a flat array

Re:Makes sense... (1)

onepoint (301486) | about 3 years ago | (#37141512)

It could be just a heat collection pattern, letting the most light hit all the branches in order that the truck has enough warmth or to prevent complete branch die off.

Re:Makes sense... (1)

cryptolemur (1247988) | about 3 years ago | (#37141526)

I gather all trees know how to use ample sunlight to survive and reproduce, the 'selection' happens when the daily/weekly/monthly dose of photons gets quite low.
So, no, I don't think it' s pure coincidence. Loosing the leafs may have more to do with freezing temperatures and no phosynthesis anyway.

Re:Makes sense... (0)

trum4n (982031) | about 3 years ago | (#37141446)

As an American, i am SHOCKED an American thought of this. YAY HOME TEAM! And i frankly don't care if its bunk, we need more inventors.

Now he needs a retail agreement (5, Funny)

Neil_Brown (1568845) | about 3 years ago | (#37140888)

so it's available in branches everywhere.

Re:Now he needs a retail agreement (1)

m50d (797211) | about 3 years ago | (#37141016)

Just check it out from his github

He just used more solar cells (2, Interesting)

agentgonzo (1026204) | about 3 years ago | (#37140920)

Check out this image: http://inhabitat.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2011/08/The-Secret-of-the-Fibonacci-Sequence-in-Trees-3.jpg [inhabitat.com]

He's used 18 cells on the tree, but 10 in the flat array. So an increase of 80% in cell numbers results in an increase of 20-50% in yield. I don't see a massive future for this.

Re:He just used more solar cells (5, Insightful)

fiordhraoi (1097731) | about 3 years ago | (#37140968)

Somehow I doubt that the American Museum of Natural History missed that, after reviewing him for a rather prestigious award for someone his age. There's most probably something we can't see from the picture alone, or the discrepancy was accounted for in the math.

Re:He just used more solar cells (3, Informative)

sangdrax (132295) | about 3 years ago | (#37141078)

What seems to count for this award is a scientific investigation driven by a well-posed question. He did just that -- he tested a hypothesis by making a setup, doing repeated measurements, and drawing conclusions. Awards such as these want to encourage exactly what this boy has done. That he made a basic mistake in his setup is probably simply not all that relevant.

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

immakiku (777365) | about 3 years ago | (#37141246)

Um something something and your high horse... Nobody's coddling the kid here. If you actually read the article you'll see he's thought through all the points this thread has made. They're not just rewarding him for effort, but for an actually useful find.

Re:He just used more solar cells (2)

sangdrax (132295) | about 3 years ago | (#37141444)

The article is just his personal explanation of his experiment. Not why they rewarded him or whether the results are actually useful in practice. The 'about the award' page gives the impression that it's about the scientific process and encouraging inquiring minds. Neither could I find anything about cell count in the tree versus the array in the text, or about the average elevation of both models.

So what am I missing here?

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37140976)

Hes 13 dude. What were doing at that age besides power rangers.

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141088)

i built a solar panel for my gameboy at 13... it charged it but since the gameboy needed 4 AA batteries it couldn't run exclusively off of solar. Few years later I actually saw a solar panel charger in the store.

Re:He just used more solar cells (4, Insightful)

Scutter (18425) | about 3 years ago | (#37140992)

You can't see the back side of the flat array. I bet there's another ten on the other side. I also think there are probably 20 on the tree, not 18. I can't see the whole tree clearly enough to get an accurate count. It seems to me that a young man smart enough to work out a design like this would not overlook something so simple as the number of cells in use during his experiment and I'm willing to give him the benefit of the doubt when the only proof against him is a single incomplete photo.

Re:He just used more solar cells (2)

agentgonzo (1026204) | about 3 years ago | (#37141128)

You can't see the back side of the flat array. I bet there's another ten on the other side

OK, that may be true. But then those 10 'north facing' cells are pretty useless and could probably be removed without actually affecting energy production. How many people install (in the northern hemisphere) panels that are north-facing?

Re:He just used more solar cells (2)

Sprouticus (1503545) | about 3 years ago | (#37141164)

It looks like the tree has 4 braches, each with 5 cells.

The flat array has 20 as well.

What strikes me is the surface area taken by the tree versus flat. If I can get 2x as many cells per unit of area in a flat design, would it actually be better?

Follow up experiments would be good. What kind of branch density can you get? How does height affect possible density? As someone pointed out, what if you have all 20 flat cells rotation to point at the sun 24/7.

Good start though!

Re:He just used more solar cells (2)

Nighttime (231023) | about 3 years ago | (#37141384)

As someone pointed out, what if you have all 20 flat cells rotation to point at the sun 24/7.

Then it would be a pretty damned good trick (without constantly changing its geographical location).

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

91degrees (207121) | about 3 years ago | (#37141434)

You could still point to the sun. Half the time you'll have a planet in the way but that's another problem:)

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

plate_o_shrimp (948271) | about 3 years ago | (#37141420)

"point at the sun 24/7." I'd like to see that!

Re:He just used more solar cells (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141380)

You can't see the back side of the flat array.

Actually you can. In this photo you can see the wires coming out of the back of the flat panel array. [amnh.org] You can see the same wires when the flat panel is setup next to the tree. [amnh.org] Unless he has another flat panel array hidden somewhere that he didn't take any photos of I'd say this experiment is a bust since he used nearly double the solar panels on the "tree" than he did with the flat panel.

But he's 13, and 13 yr olds make mistakes. Maybe he didn't realize that using 18 panels in the tree and only 10 on the flat panel would result in a much better efficiency for the solar tree.

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

foksoft (848194) | about 3 years ago | (#37141472)

I bet there's another ten on the other side.

I doubt that. He mentions in his article

I made a second model that was based on how man-made solar panel arrays are designed.

Also if you look on the graphs that you can see peek values are higher on tree model than at "classic" model. So he has more panels on the tree or has significantly crippled standard configuration.

But there is one interesting thing on the tree design. It is more even distribution of the power during a day.

His testing was pretty bad (3, Interesting)

Shivetya (243324) | about 3 years ago | (#37141008)

You caught part of it , but even positioning of the flat array versus his "tree" skewed the results. There were times he shows where the tree was not in shade but the flat panel was fully in shade. The claims of increased efficiency ignore using panels that have mechanisms to allow them to track the sun. Plus he isn't measuring the right output of photo cells, he should have measured energy production.

As for his idea of trees, btdt http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3206/2807030740_25f3f2fa53.jpg [flickr.com]

Re:His testing was pretty bad (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141268)

Good grief man, it's not an exhaustive 5-year NASA study, it's a kid's science project, and a damn good one.

There's obviously the same number of cells in each test, count again. The "flat" test is about rooftop flat panels that don't track, but are just aimed in a generally good position. His setup may not be the best (using both sides of a roof) but that would depend on the orientation of the house to the track of the sun, right? Anyway, this is a very common setup for home, rooftop setups. He shows that the tree design is more generally productive.

I don't think there is any doubt that a flat array, tracking perfectly with the sun, would outperform the tree design. But that takes maintenance, power, and extra setup/capital cost. And probably uses more "useful" space in a yard.

Stand down and enjoy the fact that someone is doing something interesting.

Re:His testing was pretty bad (1)

Eraesr (1629799) | about 3 years ago | (#37141456)

But now you're talking about optimizations on top of the panels placed on a flat surface.
In this experiment he's comparing "unoptimized" flat panels versus tree-panels which, may I remind you, can be considered to be just as unoptimized as the flat panels. What I'm trying to say is that there are probably a handful of really simple small improvements one can make on the sun panel tree to make it output even more power.

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141020)

Look closer. I think he has 20 on the tree and also 20 on the flat (10 on each side of the "roof").

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141166)

Look closer. I think he has 20 on the tree and also 20 on the flat (10 on each side of the "roof").

Probably, so that means half the solar array is perpetually pointed away from the sun at the wall of his house.

I think I found your problem there, buddy.

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

inu_maru (843192) | about 3 years ago | (#37141022)

maybe is about efficient use of space? (I don't know, haven't read the article)

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

linest (157204) | about 3 years ago | (#37141184)

The article isn't clear on the comparisons either, but I think you are correct.

Re:He just used more solar cells (4, Insightful)

Ed Bugg (2024) | about 3 years ago | (#37141038)

If you check that image, his tree model was able to pack an increase of 80% cells in 50% of the surface area he placed in the normal flat panel model. The tree model has the advantage that it doesn't have to rotate in order to achieve direct sunlight during the day/year. So it's inventive in his being able to achieve cell density that other people haven't seemly taken advantage of as of yet.

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

agentgonzo (1026204) | about 3 years ago | (#37141092)

Yes, he's increased the cell density per unit surface area, but he's using all three dimensions, rather than two that the flat arrangement uses (thus more expensive). Cell density per unit volume will have decreased with his model.

Re:He just used more solar cells (2)

complete loony (663508) | about 3 years ago | (#37141124)

But also from that picture, the flat panel array is on the ground and partially covered by shadow from some nearby tree's. That difference alone might account for the increase.

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

elrous0 (869638) | about 3 years ago | (#37141274)

Now, if we can just keep it from falling over in a windstorm...

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

scharkalvin (72228) | about 3 years ago | (#37141346)

Both models have the same number of cells. Both models do not use servos to move the cells as the sun changes position. The flat model has cells pointing in two directions to try to average out the movement of the sun (actually the earth) during the day to collect as much light as possible. The tree does a better job of this averaging out. Real live trees DO rotate their leaves to face the sun (as slow motion photography shows).

Re:He just used more solar cells (4, Informative)

St.Creed (853824) | about 3 years ago | (#37141130)

Quote from the article: "The second model was a flat-panel array that was mounted at 45 degrees. It had the same type and number of PV solar panels as the tree design, and the same peak voltage."

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

agentgonzo (1026204) | about 3 years ago | (#37141282)

It may be that his 45 mount is like a roof with cells on both 'north-facing' and 'south-facing' slopes, which will lead to one slope being pretty much useless. So his tree arrangement would improve over a flawed arrangement but not over a sensible (and de-facto standard) one.

Re:He just used more solar cells (2)

jyak (112533) | about 3 years ago | (#37141438)

I understand what was quoted, but it doesn't match what I see. Also, 10 PV cells at 0.5V will have a max voltage of 5V. So how did the tree output 5.25 Volts? Certainly, he had to have more cells on the tree.

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

lexsird (1208192) | about 3 years ago | (#37141136)

You are missing one part of the equation, space saved.

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141206)

I think you're right, notice the tree reaches 5 volts daily [amnh.org] while the standard solar panel rarely goes above 4. [amnh.org]

Even if the tree is more efficient most of the time you would think the standard solar panel, with 10 panels all pointing in the same direction, would far surpass the tree voltage at some point.

Re:He just used more solar cells (1)

immakiku (777365) | about 3 years ago | (#37141208)

If you read the article, he used the same number. Also he explained that though you can use tracking for flat arrays, maintenance costs discourage most people from doing that. So his experiment concluded an improvement for the static array arrangement.

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141214)

I needed to compare the tree design pattern's performance. I made a second model that was based on how man-made solar panel arrays are designed. The second model was a flat-panel array that was mounted at 45 degrees. It had the same type and number of PV solar panels as the tree design, and the same peak voltage. My idea was to track how much sunlight each model collected under the same conditions by watching how much voltage each model made.

From TFA

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141216)

I could be seeing it wrong (the perspective makes it difficult), but it looks like the individual cells acting as the tree "leaves" are smaller than the 10 cells in the flat array, and I think there are 20 in the tree, not 18 (some of them are edge-on, so harder to recognize). That would make sense if each one on the tree is half the size of the ones on the flat array. In other words, the same area may be divided up differently.

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141238)

From the article... used the same type, number, and peak voltage of cells.

Re:He just used more solar cells (2, Informative)

umghhh (965931) | about 3 years ago | (#37141360)

When I read your post and looked at the picture I thought you were right and the young boy was not a smart nerd but a smart manager, politician or lawyer to be. Yet then I went to TFA and looked at the graphs and what he wrote. What the graphs show is voltage and what what he is also talking about is the time at which the energy is produced being 50% longer in case of his model. Now this may or may not be true of course but his observation is about as much about voltage he could get from the device as about exposure time. It may bet hat it makes no difference but I find it interesting that he has reasonably well understood why oak trees waste time on leaves in some funny patterns. On top of it all this is 7yo boy - I know grown ups that would protest that burning stuff heats up atmosphere and they come in droves without even a smallest need to ask a question why fire causes heat etc. He has this need which for me makes him a reason to have hope for the future. It is a small hope but still I have now something more than I had over last few weeks worth of news (morons, greed, morons, greed, killers, morons,. greed, government morons, greed, killer, morons, greed and so on and so forth) here is a change. I am positively impressed and before that is gone or some asshole from above hovers to me to tell me how to do things even better, faster (so that I have the time to do them twice) I go to mycellar to fetch a bottle of my beloved beverage (that would be hoegaarden - excellent stuff from Belgium by the way) - I drink to this young man's curiosity about mama nature. Maybe even if he becomes a soldier he will think before killing an older guy drawing circles in the sand....

Re:He just used more solar cells (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141400)

Once again some eager slashdotter jumps to the conclusion that he's spotted some trivial thing that *nobody else* noticed. Not the designer, not the people evaluating it, nobody. they must be complete morons.
And as per usual, said eager slashdotter overlooked the fact that the article specifically addresses his very claim. You know, the part where it says "It had the same type and number of PV solar panels as the tree design, and the same peak voltage."

Re:He just used more solar cells (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141574)

you can only see one side of the "flat" panel. It's a roof shaped structure with more panels on the other side numnut.

Cue the angry patent posts... (1)

Infiniti2000 (1720222) | about 3 years ago | (#37140934)

I can see them now..."Wtf? He patented how I arrange my fucking solar panels?"

Re:Cue the angry patent posts... (2)

pnewhook (788591) | about 3 years ago | (#37141002)

You can just point to the oak tree as demonstration for prior art. If a tree can figure this out then it must be obvious and therefore not patentable.

Re:Cue the angry patent posts... (1)

Jmc23 (2353706) | about 3 years ago | (#37141018)

More like WTF he patented an oak tree? If he used standard pvc couplings i don't see how any of this is novel. Then again i always have faith that the US patent office will patent the stupidest things.... and pretty much every country will just ignore them.

Re:Cue the angry patent posts... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141224)

He was granted a provisional patent. A provisional patent gives him 1 year to "formalize" his invention while at the same time restricting anyone else from getting the patent during that time. A provisional patent doesn't require the extensive review that an actual patent does.

What if the flat panel spins? (0)

gatkinso (15975) | about 3 years ago | (#37140954)

Pointing itself toward the sun?

Also, as noted above, the tree collector uses more panels than the flat collector.

Re:What if the flat panel spins? (1)

fiordhraoi (1097731) | about 3 years ago | (#37141004)

Usually, panel rotation systems are finicky and require a fair amount of maintenance. Plus, they consume power, thus directly affecting the net gain. Depending on the specifics, it may be that this arrangement is more efficient. As for the additional panels, you can see my response above too.

Re:What if the flat panel spins? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141042)

Then you add moving parts (plus power use, plus complexity) to the design. Avoiding all of that is probably beneficial.

evolution wins again (1)

jswigart (1004637) | about 3 years ago | (#37140966)

science ought to look to take ideas from evolution every chance they get. usually there is a reason these sort of elements of nature are arranged as they are. is this kid the first to do that with solar tech?

And the higher solar panel does better... (1)

fauxhemian (1281852) | about 3 years ago | (#37140998)

Looking at TFA, the pictures show the solar "tree" is a foot or two higher than the conventional solar array, which is barely a couple of inches off the ground - so is it really so surprising that it performed much better when the sun was lower?

It's a neat idea though and would love to see the kid continue with it :)

Need caption? (0)

naranek (1727936) | about 3 years ago | (#37141044)

The first image there seems to need a caption. How about: Some trees.

Patents on an idea? Despicable! (1)

gweihir (88907) | about 3 years ago | (#37141064)

This is exactly the type of thing the patent system was _not_ intended to protect.

Re:Patents on an idea? Despicable! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141202)

actually it was

Are we missing the point? (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141104)

How many of you took time at the tender age of 13 to study leaf patterns on trees to figure out how best to capture sunlight and harness it for electricity? You can crap on his science all you want, but kids like this young man inspire me and give me hope that we aren't raising a bunch of video-game addicted sluggards who take everything for granted. Hooray for science and kids who want to pursue it! We want to encourage this behavior, not nit-pick him for possible flaws in research methodology.

Good documentation (2)

Sprouticus (1503545) | about 3 years ago | (#37141112)

I am more impressed by the documentation and accreditation on the website!

Did that kid just save the world ? (0)

unity100 (970058) | about 3 years ago | (#37141122)

It seems like he did .

unaccounted-for variables (2, Interesting)

hackertourist (2202674) | about 3 years ago | (#37141162)

- He set the flat array at an angle of 45 degrees. Is that the optimum angle for solar panels at his latitude?

- as mentioned elsewhere, more panels in the tree array.

- The photos show both arrays being partly shaded by trees in the yard. Since the arrays aren't at exactly the same position, the amount of shade can be different. The tree array is at an advantage: more distance between the panels means that it's less likely that more than one panel is shaded by a tree branch.

Still, it's an interesting result that raises a few questions:
- in current solar panels, the wafers are connected to their beighbors to minimise the amount of wiring. But this means that whole panel drops its output below the threshold if one row of wafers is shaded by a tree branch. Maybe we'd get more energy out of an array if we connected distant wafers in series instead, so a tree branch shadow is less likely to drop the output of a series of wafers below the threshold.

- is it possible to increase the output of an array by putting parts of it at different horizontal or vertical angles?

Slashdotted? (1)

damn_registrars (1103043) | about 3 years ago | (#37141190)

It appears we crashed the AMNH web site. Perhaps they need more power themselves?

Can we stop praising bad science? (0, Troll)

AdrianKemp (1988748) | about 3 years ago | (#37141198)

Look, I get that the kid is 13. The very fact that he attempted something like this is awesome and he probably could have a bright future as a scientist.

But his experiment, and his conclusions are complete shit. Rotating the flat panel will enable it to collect many times what the tree can (which rotating does nothing for). He's either got more panels on the tree, or 2 sets of 10 flat panels facing opposite each other (which is just fucking stupid).

Bottom line, the kids science was utter bullshit. I salute the fact that he tried and I think he should get recognition *from his parents* and encouraged to do proper science in the future.

Rewarding shit science breeds shit science; award someone for it and they'll never strive to be better.

Re:Can we stop praising bad science? (2)

datapharmer (1099455) | about 3 years ago | (#37141422)

While I agree he should have compared angled solar panels (anyone that has done anything with solar knows a panel facing south (in the northern hemisphere) will get more light than a panel laying flat, I think the idea he is going for here is for statically mounted panels such as would go on a building, not for huge solar arrays that have motor guidance etc. Besides, there is a great deal of loss from running the motors, so this could still be more efficient (although a great deal more testing would be needed to know that). Give the kid a break, at least he is trying to think - most of the other kids are playing video games which while entertaining, they don't do much for the imagination IMHO.

Hmmm. (-1, Redundant)

GReaToaK_2000 (217386) | about 3 years ago | (#37141236)

While I absolutely applaud the 13 year old for producing and implementing a scientific experiment (IMO:More than many early teens these days.) I’d like to see why (as stated above) the flat panel has less PV than the tree.

It's not a good comparison.

Compost (1)

docilespelunker (1883198) | about 3 years ago | (#37141348)

I'm going to plant one of these. In addition, I'll put all the wires I've ripped out of the house, during a rewiring session, into the compost bin. Later in the year, I can spread the electrical compost around the base of the solar power tree and it will grow and grow. Soon I'll need a different blade on the chainsaw to control the thing!

Provisional patent? (1)

Dachannien (617929) | about 3 years ago | (#37141394)

earned him ... a provisional patent on the design

Two things. One, there is no such thing as a provisional patent. There are provisional patent applications, but provisional patent applications are not separately examined, and patents do not issue from them. They are merely a procedural tool to get yourself an extra year of time to decide whether a patent is worth pursuing on your invention. The only things you need to get yourself a provisional patent application are a specification, a drawing (if applicable), and the filing fee.

Two, the issuance of a patent is not an endorsement of your invention. It merely indicates that the government believes that your patent application satisfies all of the statutory requirements for issuance of a patent. So, it significantly overstates the matter to say that a person "earned" a patent.

From little acorns... (0)

clickety6 (141178) | about 3 years ago | (#37141406)

(all the joke is in the subject line, nothing more to add here! Sorry!)

It's very simple... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141460)

put solar panels on trees.

Impressive (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141462)

Impressive, but how does this compare to a panel that follows the sun?

And in 5 years... (0)

BVis (267028) | about 3 years ago | (#37141562)

Some oil/legacy energy company will quietly buy the kid's patent with the stated intention of paying for his college education.. and then quietly bury the idea, which if practical/efficient/it does at it claims, will threaten their business model. $500k is a drop in the bucket for these companies.

He tested his rig next to a white wall.... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 3 years ago | (#37141576)

Look at the photo showing his test location.

The solar tree sits next to a white wall, reflection alone could account for the difference in total power.

The traditional set of cells wouldn't get any of the reflections.

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