BBC News are reporting that “thousands of sunflowers are to be planted in Greater Manchester to try to prove a theory put forward by a mathematics genius”.

The genius in question is Alan Turing who, in his work on mathematical biology, apparently theorised “that sunflower heads featured Fibonacci number sequences”. The BBC article explains that Turing:

wrote a paper in 1951 on form in biology and went on to work up a specific theory to explain why Fibonacci sequences appeared in plants.

However, he never had chance to test his theory…

The only surviving programs which he wrote for the Manchester Mk1, one of the world’s earliest modern computers, are devoted to proving his theories.

The BBC quotes Jonathan Swinton, who wrote a detailed article on Turing and Fibonacci Phyllotaxis in 2004, saying:

Since then other scientists believe that Turing’s explanation of why this happens in sunflowers is along the right lines but we need to test this out on a big dataset, so the more people who can grow sunflowers, the more robust the experiment.

The website for the project, Turing’s Sunflowers, part of the Manchester Science Festival, explains:

We need you to sow sunflower seeds in April and May, nurture the plants throughout the summer and when the sunflowers are fully grown we’ll be counting the number of spirals in the seed patterns in the sunflower heads. Don’t worry – expertise will be on hand to help count the seeds and you’ll be able to post your ‘spiral counts’ online.

The results will be announced during the Manchester Science Festival 2012 (27 Oct – 4 Nov), alongside a host of cultural events connected to Turing’s life and legacy, at MOSI, Manchester Museum and other cultural spaces.

Source: BBC News – Greater Manchester sunflowers to test Alan Turing theory.