Sunflowers Do the Math
The spiraling shapes in cauliflower, artichoke, and sunflower florets (above) share a remarkable feature: The numbers of clockwise and counterclockwise spirals are consecutive Fibonacci numbers—the sequence 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, and so on, so that each number is the sum of the last two. What’s more, those spirals pack florets as tight as can be, maximizing their ability to gather sunlight for the plant. But how do plants like sunflowers create such perfect floret arrangements, and what does it have to do with Fibonacci numbers? A plant hormone called auxin, which spurs the growth of leaves, flowers, and other plant organs, is the key: Florets grow where auxin flows. Using a mathematical model that describes how auxin and certain proteins interact to transport each other around inside plants, researchers could predict where the hormone would accumulate. Simulations of that model reproduced patterns exactly matching real “Fibonacci spirals” in sunflowers, the team reports this month in Physical Review Letters. Based on their results, the researchers suggest that such patterns might be more universal in nature than previously thought, so keep an eye out: Fibonacci numbers might be spiraling in every direction.
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An Illustration of Vogel’s model for the pattern of florets in the head of a sunflower.
The Science of Money
Well, I suppose it’s really the science on money. Over the years, various national banks from around the world have adorned their currency with great scientists. Despite our intellectual stutters as a nation, even the United States has two scientists currently on legal tender: Benjamin Franklin ($100 bill, AKA “the Benji”) and Thomas Jefferson ($2 bill, rare but real).
Here we see Einstein on Isreali Lirot (1968), the Space Shuttle on a British £5 note, a senior Nikola Tesla on a rather ridiculous 10,000,000,000 Yugoslavian Dinar (1993, clearly at the height of economic health), Louis Pasteur on a 5 French Franc note (1966), Marie (Sklodowska) Curie on a 20,000 Polish Zloty, and a rather suspicious Galileo Galilei on a 2000 Italian Lire note (1973).
Check out Jacob Bourjaily’s full collection for more science plus dinero.
Bonus galleries of awesome science:
Browse my favorite über-nerdy pocket protector collection, true gems of pocket-sized mid-century design here (there’s even one in plaid).
The I.D. badges of every single Manhattan Project scientist, proving that even famous physicists take awkward photos.