Posts tagged Weird & Wonderful

Growing Alan Turing's legacy

Wednesday 18 May 2016 Tagged inAround the world, Counting, Weird & Wonderful

We’re proud to share exciting news about the Turing’s Sunflowers project, a citizen science experiment celebrating the legacy of Alan Turing in the centenary of his birth.

Thousands of sunflowers were planted by families, schools and community groups in honour of Turing as part of the study to explore number patterns in sunflowers and to help solve a mathematical riddle that Turing worked on before his death in 1954.

Famous for his code-breaking skills, which helped to crack the Enigma Code during the Second World War, and as a founder of computer science and artificial intelligence, Alan Turing later became fascinated with the mathematical patterns found in stems, leaves and seeds - a study known as phyllotaxis.

The spirals in sunflower seed heads often conform to a Fibonacci number (0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21,34,55, and so on, where each number is the sum of the two numbers before it). Turing was one of a number of scientists who tried to explain ‘Fibonacci phyllotaxis’, but he died before the work was complete.

Professor Jonathan Swinton who led on the study has now re-checked all of the sunflower pictures and data sent in by growers and, with the project coordinator, Dr Erinma Ochu, published the findings and the dataset in the academic Journal, Royal Society Open Science, which anyone can download.

Excitingly in addition to finding sunflowers with Fibonacci numbers, in a few cases, seedheads with non-Fibonacci numbers or ‘nearly’ Fibonacci numbers were discovered.

This paper, not only includes sunflower pictures submitted by you, the growers, but also provides a new dataset, which will allow theoretical explanations of Fibonacci phyllotaxis to be tested.

The challenge now, will be to create mathematical models of how sunflowers grow to take into account the rare exceptions to Fibonacci patterns.

We really want to thank every single grower who submitted data, pictures, cake  and photographic exhibitions.

To download the paper visit:

Photo gallery

Janet's picture of Samsun

The Big Sunflower Project

Monday 18 March 2013 Tagged inAround the world, Weird & Wonderful

Butterfly on sunflower

We love hearing from people that use sunflowers to celebrate or raise awareness of a good cause. Recently Toni Abram contacted us about The Big Sunflower Project and how Turing's Sunflower growers could get involved... 

This year I am asking people to raise awareness of the rare neuromuscular conditions called centronuclear (CNM) and myotubular myopathy (MTM) by growing a sunflower.

My father and I were diagnosed with a mild form of centronuclear myopathy in 1998 and after our diagnosis, I set up the Information Point website to raise awareness and provide information and support to anyone affected by any form of the condition.

Illustrations of sunflowers appear on the website. I chose sunflowers for the positive outlook which I think they convey. I love the way they grow to such dizzy heights, as if they are on a mission to touch the sky and nothing can hold them back.

In 2011 I decided that growing sunflowers would be a good way to mark 10 years of the website and three years on, thanks to generous seed donations, the project is still taking place and has become a lovely way of engaging the CNM / MTM community and others in a fun pastime to raise awareness of these neuromuscular conditions, for which currently there are no cure.

This year some of the seeds have gone to a gardening tutor in Liverpool with lots of growing spaces to fill; to Leigh on Sea for some raised beds and a kitchen garden; to Leeds where they are to be passed around an allotment association; to High Wycombe for growing on an allotment run by four people with learning disabilities; and to a family in London, a firm of architects in Chester and a school in Tipperary for sunflower growing competitions. The project has been taken up further afield also and this year The Big Sunflower Project will be taking place in Canada and the USA too.

Get some seeds & get involved!

Seeds for The Big Sunflower Project UK and Europe are available in return for a stamped addressed envelope by emailing

Further information

Find out about the Big Sunflower Project here. Like the project on facebook and share photos on flickr.

For more information on centronuclear and myotubular myopathy, visit

Photo gallery

Janet's picture of 007 butterfly on sunflower Butterfly on sunflower

Unframed Sunflower Legacy

Wednesday 7 November 2012 Tagged inevents, Meet the growers, Weird & Wonderful

Sunflower installation

We were really excited when Denise Swanson, tweeted her sunflower installation picture. We were naturally curious to know more... Here's her story...

I wanted to participate in the Turing sunflower experiment from the start, but my first attempts were sadly futile. From my second sowing, a sole surviving Russian Giant interested me, as it battled against all odds and finally flowered, magnificently standing tall and proud.

An upcoming print exhibition called ‘Unframed’ at Oxheys Mill Studios in Preston with ArtLab at UCLan provided an opportunity to try something new and to ensure the legacy of my sunflower lived on.

The installation consists of 7 separate fine art prints, each A2 in size, suspended in a clockwise spiral from the rafters, creating an enormous sunflower which gently floats and moves as if in the breeze. Called Ra! the work quietly reflects on the significance of sun worship in every culture.

The installation is on display now as part of:

'Unframed' exhibition at Oxheys Mill Studios in Preston until the 1st December, open Fri/Sat 11-4 with some fabulous work from several other local artists.

Denise Swanson is a fine art photographer/artist with an interest in the natural world and our place within it. Visit: to find out more.

Photo gallery

Keith's picture of L

Fibonacci Sunflower cake

Friday 2 November 2012 Tagged inLearning Resources, Meet the growers, Weird & Wonderful

Turing's Sunflowers Cake

We are always excited by the talents and hobbies of our growers as it helps show different ways to communicate and enjoy how fibonacci numbers work in sunflower seed heads. Here, grower, Liisa Milne shares her sunflower cake recipe!

I am not, by any stretch of the definition, a professional baker.

It is one of a long list of hobbies I have tried out and one of a short list that I have actually stuck with. I have lately been into decorating cakes and trying out new techniques so sometimes I make a little extra and freeze it to practice when I have the time and energy.

So when @TuringSunflower asked for “cake loving baking peeps” it seemed like a great excuse to use the cake I had left over from a family birthday not long ago.

This is a great recipe I found on Whisk Kid’s blog for a confetti cake:

1 C milk (237 ml), divided and at room temp

4 egg whites (120 grams), room temp

1 egg, room temp

2 tsp vanilla

1/2 tsp almond extract

3 C (350 g) cake flour, sifted

1 1/2 C sugar (300 g)

1 Tbsp + 1 tsp baking powder

3/4 tsp salt

6 Tbsp (85 g) butter, cubed and at room temp

6 Tbsp (85 g) vegetable shortening

1/2 C rainbow sprinkles

Preheat the oven to 350F (180C) and oil and line two 8" pans. Set aside.

In a medium bowl, combine 1/4 C of the milk, egg whites, egg, vanilla and almond extract. Set aside.

Place the flour, sugar, baking powder and salt in the bowl of your mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Combine on low speed for 30 seconds.

Add the butter and shortening and blend on low for 30 seconds. Add the remaining 3/4 C of milk and mix until just moistened. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and beat on medium-high speed for 1 and a half minutes.

Scrape down the sides of the bowl and add one third of the egg/milk mixture. Beat on medium for 20 seconds, then scrape down the bowl and add the remaining egg/milk mix in the same way. Fold in the rainbow sprinkles.

Divide the batter into your prepared pans and bake 25-30 minutes until a toothpick inserted into the center of the cake comes out clean.

Seeing as my nieces don’t like the taste of fondant I don’t get to use it that often but I couldn’t think of a better way to do a sunflower. I broke out my tools and colours and got to work. It took some math and a good eye but I managed to get thirty four spirals going one way and fifty five the other – just like the seed heads I harvested from my pots in the backyard!

Slice of Turing's Sunflowers cake

Happy 100th Alan Turing. I saved a piece for you.

If you have an interesting way to demonstrate the fibonacci numbers in sunflowers, just drop us an email and we'll add your work to the learning resources.

Photo gallery

Keith's picture of B

The first count from france!

Wednesday 26 September 2012 Tagged inCounting, Weird & Wonderful

Well, if a field of sunflowers in Worcester wasn't enough, our first sunflower counts came in from France! Peter Elliott and his wife, Maddy, live very close to the city of Carcassonne in the Aude, about an hour from the Meditterranean, at Narbonne, and a couple of hours from the Pyrenees, and the Spanish border. The sunflowers in the picture are from last July...

Here's Peter's story...

Sunflowers in a field in france

I read about the Sunflower seed head count in an article that appeared in the Times earlier in the year.

Until the end of last year I was a corporate lawyer in a city of London law firm and although I have no farming background, my wife comes from farming stock and we produce a sunflower seed crop of about 14 tonnes annually. It was not difficult therefore to take a few sample seed heads from the fields and enter them in the count.

We purchased our property in the Massif de Malepere (literally "bad stone") in 2005, and are in a farming area that is devoted either to cereal crops or vines (the local wine cooperative is in the nearest village) . We bought an agricultural holding with a small house already on the land, as this enabled us to extend the house, and create a contemporary Languedoc house in an agricultural zone where there are strict controls on building. So we found ourselves with an additional acreage on which cereal crops had always been grown (we have 45 acres in total). We simply continue growing the crop by employing the same agricultural contractor to do the work as had done this prior to our purchase. We sell the crop either to the local Farming Co-Operative or to an independent cereal trader. Annually we rotate the crop between the two halves of our land. On the one half we have winter wheat (seeded in November and cropped in July) and on the other half sunflowers (seeded in mid April/May and cropped in September/October). It is a sensible rotation, as neither crop requires any irrigation (and it would be totally uneconomic to irrigate the crop) and the sunflowers require no additional fertilizer, as they "live" off the feed of the previous year's winter wheat.

Most of my seed heads are large, but I did include 2 smaller seed heads in the sample. I uploaded my sample of 6 sunflower seed heads successfully, including photos, in about 30 mins. I found the questionnaire quite straightforward, and the online experience was good. Only 1 of the 6 seed heads failed to produce a Fibonacci number on one of the spiral counts. Otherwise the results were all consistent.

Thanks to Peter for kickstarting the count with six sunflower seed heads, testing out our counting sheet (and spotting an error that's now updated!) and for putting a question to Professor Swinton about the relationship of the length of the spirals to one another...

Peter is interested in the relationship between the clockwise and anti-clockwise spirals both in terms of the fibonacci numbers and their length. He noticed, for example, that the clockwise count is  usually one Fibonacci number higher than the anti-clockwise count. This is something we are interested in testing out... which has the higher fibonacci number the clockwise or the anti-clockwise spirals?

If you have any more questions about the experiment for Professor Swinton, let us know and we'll get him to answer them in a blog post.

If you want to write a blog post about your counting experience - do get in touch!

Squirrel Nation versus Turing's Sunflower Growers

Wednesday 26 September 2012 Tagged inWeird & Wonderful

Its official - reports have been flying in across our social media whirlpool (twitter & facebook) that squirrels are helping themselves to Turing's Sunflowers!

Squirrel munching on Turing Sunflower at Manchester Science Park

Check out this video to see what happened to this sunflower! Thanks to @otpbdh for this clip...

The fact that squirrels love sunflowers was not something I envisaged on my 'project management risk log' for this project but... its well and truly logged now (be warned squirrels!) and perhaps should go into any academic paper as one of the hazards of the experiment. Although one grower, Tim Prevett snapped a squirrel eating sunflowers last year:

Squirrel eating sunflowers

In the first instance i was cursing the squirrels but now i realise of course that its only natural that they would eat sunflower seeds - and we are probably seen as pests to them!

So instead of declaring war - maybe we can somehow make peace with the squirrels and be envrionmentally friendly at the same time:-

1) Put out some other more tasty squirrel snacks for them

2) Put out the seeds of sunflowers that have been counted out for the squirrels.

3) Teach the squirrels about the importance our experiment and see if they might stave off eating them for a while in the name of mathematics and Turing?!

Please let us know how you are coping with the squirrels... and of course add your videos and pics to show us what you are doing to make friends with these fluffy creatures!

We would love for Squirrels to feature in the final Turing's Sunflower diary movie... so do make a sunflower diary about how you overcome the challenge of the Squirrels!

Photo gallery

Squirrel munching on Turing Sunflower at Manchester Science Park Squirrel eating sunflowers

Manchester Pride

Wednesday 5 September 2012 Tagged inevents, Turing related, Weird & Wonderful

sunflower and rainbow flag

We had a fantastic time on August bank holiday weekend watching the Manchester Pride parade in which Alan Turing was fittingly honoured with sunflowers!

The day before the parade, helped by BBC Outreach and the Lesbian and Gay Foundation, we tended to the Turing's Sunflowers that were planted around Sackville Gardens where the statue of Turing resides.

We were a bit disappointed to find quite a few of them trampled but that's always the risk with public planting. We were fortunate to rescue quite a few and realise we should have put planters to support them a lot earlier.

Pride paraders

At the pride parade we were overjoyed to discover four (!!) floats honouring Turing and three honouring him with sunflowers. Plus, sunflowers were being given out to the public and paraders. We met up with Eastland Homes and Age UK who had both created Turing's Sunflowers floats. Lots of hard work had gone into making the floats and costumes, with Age UK participants handcrafting their sunflower bonnets and Eastland Homes covering their float with sunflowers handmade by families across several Manchester housing estates. Congratulations to Eastland Homes for winning best costume.

The University of Manchester float celebrated Turing's contributions to computing and sunflowers - and won best public sector float.

University of Manchester

Everyone got into the pride spirit to show their support and to celebrate Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgendered people and their contributions to society in the annual extravaganza that took over the city centre.

Turing Sunflower comes to life

As you can see, a MOSI sunflower came out to play at Pride and several Turing's Sunflower growers joined in the fun too.

A huge thank you to the Manchester Pride Team for honouring Turing in such a fantastic way - it was truly memorable to see sunflowers alongside the rainbow flag.

If you want to learn about Manchester's LGBT history, do visit MOSI's community exhibition, Behind the Scene.

To find out more about Turing's Life and Legacy, visit Manchester Museum's Turing Exhibition and of course, come along to the Turing events as part of Manchester Science Festival.

Photo gallery

Erinma's picture of 24 Turing Sunflower comes to life Pride sunflower Sunflower growers Pride

Why we love sunflowers..

Wednesday 29 August 2012 Tagged inMeet the growers, Weird & Wonderful

Bee on sunflower

I was really excited to hear that someone had been taking close up pics of our Turing's Sunflowers at MOSI. I was even more delighted to hear the photographer, Penelope's story which will hopefully inspire other nature lovers and give us something interesting to do whilst we wait for our sunflowers to get ready for counting. Here's her story...

I became intrigued by the Turing Sunflower Project early on, growing sunflowers from seeds with my MOSI colleagues to plant in our on-site grow boxes. As they sprouted into seedlings I found myself growing quite fond of them. Always having had a general fascination with the marvels of nature and photography, I decided to combine the two. I love to take my lunch breaks outside, usually not to eat but to take photos! I have a particular fondness for my macro setting on my camera, a Panasonic Lumix point and shoot digital, and am fascinated by the bumblebee. Having grown up in Australia where we don’t have bumblebees you may be able to understand my fascination!

Harlequin Ladybird

Once the sunflower blooms started appearing and I was carrying out my rostered watering duties I began to notice that both honey bees and bumblebees were particularly attracted to them, along with ladybirds and other insects too. I started taking photos as a record for identification and then started counting them too. My colleagues would agree it all spiralled out of control from there.

So if you’re after a fun/obsessive activity to do whilst waiting for your own sunflower spirals to be ready for the big count, I highly recommend taking a moment each day to watch your blooms more closely, you’ll see our precious pollinators in action and may be lucky enough to spot some other interesting insects enjoying them too!

Find your guide to identifying UK bees and other great resources here at the Bumblebee Conservation Trust and sign up for the BeeWatch survey.

Further inspiration can be found in other citizen science projects being run internationally: The Great Sunflower Project San Francisco

Other insect counts to get involved in:

Big Butterfly Count (for the rest of August)

UK Ladybird Survey

Follow Penelope with her professional hat on, on Twitter or, check out her photography on flickr. Penelope Nyau is an administrator based at MOSI and amateur photographer.


Celebrating Turing @ Live from Jodrell Bank

Sunday 1 July 2012 Tagged inevents, Meet the growers, Weird & Wonderful

Shea, Diana and Jen

We were really excited to celebrate Alan Turing's centenary (100 years since he was born) on 23rd June 2012 at Jodrell Bank. We hosted a stand in the Science Arena to celebrate Turing's birthday with the thousands of visitors who'd come from around the UK to watch Elbow and other bands play Live from Jodrell Bank.

Seeds planted at Jodrell

MOSI presenters, Adam and Shea and STEM Ambassador, Diana from The University of Manchester and Erinma (Turing's Sunflowers project manager) to engage the public in growing special dwarf sunflowers and code breaking activities whilst finding out more about Turing's life and legacy. We were visited by quite a few Turing's Sunflower growers including Astronomer, Jen Gupta as well as people who hadn't heard about the project but were excited to plant a Turing Sunflower on Turing's birthday.

Jodrell Sunflowers

We're happy to say that the Jodrell Live sunflowers are doing really well. A huge thank you to everyone who planted a sunflower at the stand and to the organisers at Jodrell for putting on a fab event. The sunflowers will become part of the experiment and once they have grown a bit more, will be planted in a very special place... all to be revealed!

Photo gallery

Jodrell Sunflowers planting at Jodrell Shea, Diana and Jen Shea with visitors to jodrell Adam

Miracle Baby

Wednesday 20 June 2012 Tagged inevents, Meet the growers, Turing related, Weird & Wonderful

London Turing's sunflower grower, Amy's blog post take us frrom the giant baby of the marvellous Manchester Day parade in our a post to another kind of sunflower baby...  

My name is Amy and I am a Turing sunflower grower in London.

I enjoy gardening, have an amateur interest in science and am always keen to get involved in a good project, so naturally I was eager to take part in the Turing's Sunflowers experiment.

I've currently got two crops of sunflowers on the go - about 20 sprouts in a patch of soil outside my kitchen window, and six others in flower beds outside my lounge room window.

Recently, on my way to a preview of the new Alan Turing exhibition at the London Science Museum (more on that on my next blog), I dropped in to the Natural History Museum and came across this item in their gift shop.

Elephant poo in a box

A box of elephant poo and sunflower seed to grow in it.

I know, the optimum planting time for sunflower seeds has now passed (May 31st)... But hey, I'm a believer in the power and beauty of nature, so I thought I'd buy the box and see what nature and I could achieve.

Elephant poo in a box

So as we edge towards the end of June, I plant my little seed - who I shall call Elle - and keep my fingers crossed for a new addition to my sunflower family.

Seed in elephant poo

She is the one I will inevitably refer to as my 'miracle baby' if all goes well.

Amy is another grower on twitter and she contacted us to write a blog post. You can do the same - we'd love to hear your stories. Get in touch, we'd love to hear from you.