Maths and nature link 'proven' by Manchester scientists


The largest ever research project into mathematical patterns in flowers has proved a link between number sequences and nature, Manchester scientists said.

Hundreds of volunteers worldwide grew sunflowers as part of the project led by the city's Museum of Science and Industry and university.

Scientists aimed to test the theory of Manchester-based computer pioneer Alan Turing, who died in 1954.

Research showed most spirals of seeds in the flowers conformed to patterns.

'Wider implications'

Data from 557 sunflowers from seven countries was collected for the Turing's Sunflowers project, set up to celebrate the centenary of the mathematician's birth, and growers kept video diaries about their flowers' progress.

It showed 82% of the flowers conformed to complex structures including the mathematical Fibonacci sequence - where each number is the sum of the previous two.

image captionAlan Turing died before he could test his theory about the Fibonacci sequence

Scientists said this proves maths is an integral part of nature and could provide clues to help biologists understand how plants develop.

Professor Jonathan Swinton, a computational biologist, said: "It's the most comprehensive information we have so far on Fibonacci numbers in sunflowers and we have proved what Alan Turing observed when he looked at a few sunflowers in his own garden in Wilmslow.

"Now we need to work together with biologists to understand the wider implications of different number patterns for plant growth."

The appearance of patterns in the phyllotaxis - the arrangement of leaves, stems, seeds or similar - has been studied by many well-known scientists, including Leonardo Da Vinci.

Turing, who directed the computing laboratory at the University of Manchester, died before he could test his theory about the Fibonacci sequence.

He was convicted for gross indecency in 1952, when homosexual acts were illegal in the UK, and killed himself two years later.

The results of the project, announced at the Manchester Science Festival earlier, will be published in a scientific paper so further studies can explore the reasons why number patterns occur in nature.

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