Aidan Dwyer is a natural at studying the environment.

Dwyer, a seventh-grader at Northport Middle School, was one of 12 students nationwide to win a 2011 Young Naturalist Award from the American Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. The contest asked students in grades 7-12 to use scientific research to investigate the world around them.

His project used a homemade solar-panel device, built with small photovoltaic panels in place of leaves, to determine if a tree's branching pattern enables it to collect more sunlight than a typical flat panel. He compared the branching pattern to the Fibonacci Sequence in mathematics.

"My investigation asked whether there was a secret formula in tree design and whether the purpose of the spiral pattern was to collect sunlight better," Dwyer said. "At the end of my research, I put the pieces of this natural puzzle together, and I discovered the answer."

Dwyer said the solar panel's tree design enabled it to produce 20 percent more electricity and collect about 21/2 hours more sunlight than flat panels.

Projects were judged based on originality, demonstration of the ability to gather data, and thoughtfulness in analyzing and interpreting findings.

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