The Indiana Jones of Solar Power

Aidan Dwyer – at 13 years old – has made a solar power breakthrough by looking at the way trees are shaped. That’s pretty darn impressive – a little bit like the Blackawton primary school science class and their academic paper on bees.

What I love, though, is his explanation of the process of his discovery. It has pattern-spotting, curiosity, research, maths, geography, history, design, science and more all thrown in. Aidan is clearly a model problem solver and I’m looking forward to seeing how my class react.

He starts:

People see winter as a cold and gloomy time in nature. The days are short. Snow blankets the ground. Lakes and ponds freeze, and animals scurry to burrows to wait for spring. The rainbow of red, yellow and orange autumn leaves has been blown away by the wind turning trees into black skeletons that stretch bony fingers of branches into the sky. It seems like nature has disappeared.

But when I went on a winter hiking trip in the Catskill Mountains in New York, I noticed something strange about the shape of the tree branches. I thought trees were a mess of tangled branches, but I saw a pattern in the way the tree branches grew. I took photos of the branches on different types of trees, and the pattern became clearer.

Then there’s this.

The branches seemed to have a spiral pattern that reached up into the sky. I had a hunch that the trees had a secret to tell about this shape. Investigating this secret led me on an expedition from the Catskill Mountains to the ancient Sanskrit poetry of India; from the 13th-century streets of Pisa, Italy, and a mysterious mathematical formula called the “divine number” to an 18th-century naturalist who saw this mathematical formula in nature; and, finally, to experimenting with the trees in my own backyard.

I love the breadth of the approach. And I love the way it is problem-solving, but problem-solving that is not constrained by subject, period or style. It is, I think, very Indiana Jones.

Baroness Greenfield’s brain is being melted by MyFace waves

Baroness Greenfield is at it again. The internet is very bad for children’s brains, it seems. Starter for 10: which UK newspaper had this as a headline?

Facebook and Twitter are creating a vain generation of self-obsessed people with child-like need for feedback, warns top scientist

Yup. The Daily Mail. Stephen Downes points to a great interview from Frank Swain, a new subscription for me.

Frank Swain’s reaction is laudably diplomatic:

I would say that Greenfield’s views here are … complicated. There’s no doubting the passion her feels about this topic, and a a good deal of her interactions come across as a desire to raise awareness. But raise awareness of what, exactly?

The ever wonderful Mind Hacks points to a less polite pastiche over at Lay Scientist.

“I think it’s really important that people aren’t frightened by scare stories about new technology, and I’ve been a big supporter of brain-training software in the past,” the scientist said, “but people’s brains are literally melting inside their heads from all the MyFace waves being absorbed.”

While I don’t think anyone deserves to be ridiculed, as Ben Goldacre pointed out last year, there are genuine causes for concern.

The Importance of Stupidity

Love this …

One of the beautiful things about science is that it allows us to bumble along, getting it wrong time after time, and feel perfectly fine as long as we learn something each time. No doubt, this can be difficult for students who are accustomed to getting the answers right. No doubt, reasonable levels of confidence and emotional resilience help, but I think scientific education might do more to ease what is a very big transition: from learning what other people once discovered to making your own discoveries. The more comfortable we become with being stupid, the deeper we will wade into the unknown and the more likely we are to make big discoveries. From The importance of stupidity in scientific research

via Jim McGee