Skip to main content

Flowers and Solar Panels

MIT students use the concept of phototropism to design a sun-tracking solar panel that requires no motor or electronic control system.
  • Author:
  • Updated:

Spend a day observing a field of sunflowers and you'll get a good feeling for phototropism, a plant's method for maximizing sunlight exposure by following old sol as it moves across the sky. Earlier this year, a team of MIT students used the concept to design a sun-tracking solar panel, which, unlike the electro-mechanical ones currently on the market, requires no motor or energy-sapping electronic control system to function. The innovation involves mounting the solar panels on top of metal arches, which react to the sun's heating by curving in the direction of the sun's rays. Though still in the concept phase, the Heliotrope, which won first prize in the school's Making and Designing Materials Engineering Contest, is significant because solar cells that align with the sun's rays have been found to be 38 percent more efficient than standard stationary panels.