A 13-year-old who, observing trees, takes it upon himself to read up on the Fibonacci series and propose a way to better utilize solar energy is the feel-good story at its finest. So naturally, media outlets including us have been sharing the tale of seventh grader Aidan Dwyer's solar power "breakthrough" science project. But according to the blog The Capacity Factor, the media has been getting way ahead of itself.
In short, here is the story of young Dwyer's science finding: He was observing trees, and noticed how the branches held a spiral pattern, and wondered what would be the use of that. Looking at the Fibonacci series, which describes spirals, he also noticed that tree leaves adhered to the spiral sequence. This led him to propose arranging solar panels like oak trees leaves, a manner which would be 20 to 50 percent more efficient, energy-wise. The American Museum of Natural History rewarded him with a Young Naturalist award.
So far, so great. But The Capacity Factor, clearly unhappy with its role of the Grinch who must squash an adolescent's science discovery, has written a post called "In which hopelessly inept journalists reduce me to having to debunk a school science project." (The post as of this moment is temporarily unavailable, though we link to the cache.) The post indicates about Dwyer's discovery: "This is, I'm sad to say, clear nonsense. I'll take this in two parts: one, why his experiment is, unfortunately, completely broken (sorry again). Two, why the imagined result is impossible nonsense."