Last week we were lucky enough to be joined by Jonathan Swinton, a Professor in Systems Biology who conceived of the Turing's Sunflower project for this year's festival.
Over several coffees in the MOSI cafe, Jonathan explained the mathematical concepts behind his idea to do a mass participatory experiment to build on the final work of Alan Turing in his centenary year.
World famous for his code-breaking skills and contributions to computing, Turing was also fascinated with the mathematical patterns found in plant stems, leaves and seeds, a study know as phyllotaxis. This was a key element to his research when he came to The University of Manchester.
Turing noticed, for example, that the number of spirals in the seed patterns of sunflower heads (and pine cones as Jonathan shows MOSI's marketing team in the picture) often conform to a number that appears in the mathematical sequence called the Fibonacci sequence (0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55, 89…). Turing set out to explain how this might help us to understand the growth of plants. Sadly, he died before his work was complete and since then scientists have continued his work, but to properly test these hypotheses we need lots of data… and sunflowers are perfect for the job, so long as we can grow enough of them!
And that is the challenge... join us this spring to Grow a Turing Sunflower to celebrate his centenary and build on Turing's legacy to Manchester and indeed the world!
Up for the challenge? Sign up here.