Spirals Count

The spirals have been counted and the preliminary results are in...

Turing’s Sunflowers attracted involvement from people across the world who pledged thousands of sunflowers to the experiment.

Here's a short film produced by our partners in BBC Outreach using the Grower's diaries:

Citizen scientists, including many schoolchildren, were asked to provide measurements and data about their sunflowers, particularly the number of spirals running clockwise and anti-clockwise in the sunflower seedhead. Professor Jonathan Swinton who conceived of the idea of Turing's sunflower has analyzed a dataset from sunflowers submitted before Manchester Science Festival.

  • Data from 557 sunflowers from seven countries has been analysed and 458 showed spiral counts as part of a Fibonacci sequence.
  • Initial findings show that 82 per cent of sunflowers had a Fibonacci-type structure, for example, where the number of spirals conformed to one of the numbers in the sequence 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, 55… (each number is the sum of the previous two).
  • The study, which is the largest research attempt ever into the mathematical patterns in sunflowers, with unprecedented photographic evidence, proves that maths is an integral part of nature and could provide clues to help biologists understand plant health and development in the future.
  • In a small number of cases 33 spiral counts were observed from the Lucas series of numbers (1, 3, 4, 7, 11…), and in 26 cases, double Fibonacci sequences (e.g. 21x2 or 34 x2) were noted.

  • The project team were intrigued that some sunflowers showed beautiful examples of the spiral patterning but no Fibonacci numbers. It is these exceptions to the rule which are particularly interesting topics for future investigation.

  • The aim is to publish the results in a scientific paper and make the data available for further studies to explore the reasons why these different number patterns occur in nature.

    At Manchester Science Festival, there was also an audience Q& A with a panel comprising Professor Paul Glendinning (Mathematician, University of Manchester), Professor Swinton and grower, Isabel. You can watch them here: