Turing's Sunflowers

Turing's Sunflowers

Alan Turing, perhaps best known for helping crack Germany's Enigma Code during World War II, was fascinated by how math works in nature. Turing noticed that the Fibonacci sequence, often occurred in sunflower seed heads. (By definition, the first two numbers in the Fibonacci sequence are 0 and 1, and each subsequent number is the sum of the previous two.) He hoped that by studying the plant it might help us understand how plants grow but died before he could finish his work.

MOSI (Museum of Science & Industry, Manchester), the Manchester Science Festival and The University of Manchester are paying tribute to Turing in a mass experiment to grow 3,000 sunflowers. If enough people grow, researchers can collect sufficient data to put Turing's and other scientists' theories to the test.

All participants in the Turing's Sunflower's project need to do is grow a sunflower, keep the seed head and take part in the head count in September and October. For that, participants will be able to take their seed head to one of our special counting locations, or post their 'spiral counts' online. Researchers at The University of Manchester will then collate the data, and the results will be announced during the Manchester Science Festival, which runs from October 27 through November 4. Everyone who submits data from their sunflower will be included as part of the Turing's Sunflowers group and referred to in academic publications that result from the experiment.

Project Details

  • PRINCIPAL SCIENTIST: Jonathan Swinton and Erinma Ochu
  • SCIENTIST AFFILIATION: University of Oxford and Lancaster University
  • DATES: Ongoing
  • PROJECT TYPE: Observation
  • COST: Less than $20
  • GRADE LEVEL: All Ages

    Visit the Turing's Sunflowers Web site and sign up.

See more projects in Less than $20ObservationAll Ages.

What Is Citizen Science?

Research often involves teams of scientists collaborating across continents. Now, using the power of the Internet, non-specialists are participating, too. Citizen Science falls into many categories. A pioneering project was SETI@Home, which has harnessed the idle computing time of millions of participants in the search for extraterrestrial life. Citizen scientists also act as volunteer classifiers of heavenly objects, such as in Galaxy Zoo. They make observations of the natural world, as in The Great Sunflower Project. And they even solve puzzles to design proteins, such as FoldIt. We'll add projects regularly—and please tell us about others you like as well.

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