On a walk through the woods, Aidan Dwyer unknowingly replicated what scientists have been doing since the beginning of time. He looked at nature, took inspiration from how it solved a problem, and replicated what he saw in the lab. Where the average observer sees chaos in the way the leaves grow on trees, the budding scientist saw structure and order, and a lot of history and math later, he discovered that tree leaves follow the Fibonacci sequence. This “divine sequence” can be used to predict many things in nature, from Rabbit reproduction to your own personal proportions. The tree’s implementation of the sequence, he hypothesized, allowed for maximum sunlight collection no matter where the sun was, or its height in the sky. To test this, he built his own small solar array, and torture tested it around the winter solstice on a cloudy day, the worst possible conditions there could be. To his surprise, his placement of his solar cells, mimicking the trees, actually produced almost 30% more electricity than traditional layouts.
I began to see how nature beat this problem. 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. Trees in a forest are competing with other trees and plants for sunlight, and even each branch and leaf on a tree are competing with each other for sunlight. Evolution chose the Fibonacci pattern to help trees track the Sun moving in the sky and to collect the most sunlight even in the thickest forest.
I saw patterns that showed that the tree design avoided the problem of shade from other objects. Electricity dropped in the flat-panel array when shade fell on it. But the tree design kept making electricity under the same conditions. The Fibonacci sequence allowed some solar panels to collect sunlight even if others were in shade. Plus I observed that the Fibonacci pattern helped the branches and leaves on a tree to avoid shading each other.
My conclusions suggest that the Fibonacci pattern in trees makes an evolutionary difference. This is probably why the Fibonacci pattern is found in deciduous trees living in higher latitudes. The Fibonacci pattern gives plants like the oak tree a competitive edge while collecting sunlight when the Sun moves through the sky.
For his research, Aidan was awarded a Young Naturalist Award by the American Museum of Natural History, and his contributions to science will likely be making a difference in your own personal backyard a decade from now, where instead of redoing your roof, you plant a (solar) tree for clean energy. Great job Aidan, I can’t wait to see what you come up with next.