A Youngster’s Bright Idea Is Something New Under the Sun; Scientist Is 13-Year-Old Aidan Dwyer
A new way of collecting solar energy has polarized scientists around the world and ignited fierce debate on the Internet, where the innovator in question has been called everything from an alien to the agent of a global conspiracy.
13-year-old Aidan Dwyer developed a new way to collect solar energy, and along the way sparked a fierce debate among scholars and scientists. He joins the News Hub to tell his story. Photo: Claudio Papapietro for The Wall Street Journal
Maybe a better title would be an intellectual Hannah Montana. That’s because the scientist, Aidan Dwyer, is 13 years old.
This past summer, Aidan won a national science competition with what seemed to be a bright idea: His research appeared to show that solar panels arrayed like the leaves on a tree collect sunlight more efficiently than traditional setups.
Many people on the Web called the Long Island teenager a “genius” who had achieved a true “breakthrough” in solar power. Others praised him for proving that nature’s own designs are superior to man’s.
But there was one little problem: To prove his hypothesis, Aidan had measured the wrong thing.
As readers figured out the mistake, the Internet went supernova. Commenters and bloggers attacked Aidan with vitriol usually saved for political enemies and the Kardashians. Blogs decried his experiment as “bad science” and “impossible nonsense.” Someone called him “an alien—a cool one, though.”
Aidan and his family watched in amazement as strangers around the world debated his intelligence and abilities, as well as his opinion of subjects generally beyond the scope of a suburban boy his age: politics, evolution and the state of modern society, for example.
He got some constructive advice, said Aidan’s mother, Maureen. “Then there were people who were just—”
“Haters,” Aidan chimed in with a grin.
The legitimacy of his original idea remains unsettled, though scientists are skeptical. Aidan is now revamping his experiment as he maneuvers around homework, sleepovers and the odd curfew violation.
But there is no disputing that he has become a star. Many in the scientific community are championing his intellectual curiosity and graceful ability to weather an Internet firestorm, making him a hot speaker at events around the world.
“It looks like there is some validity to what he’s come up with. But even if there wasn’t any validity, I wanted to give this young man the opportunity to sort of say, ‘Here’s what I learned and here’s what I did,’” said Andrew Zolli, the executive director of PopTech, a nonprofit organization focused on innovation.