Learning, Innovation & Tech

Bombs & Breakthroughs

A 13-year old shows us how the Fibonacci sequence relates to trees: got that?

CJ Westerberg, September 15, 2011 11:12 PM

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 "The Secret of the Fibonacci Sequence in Trees"

The Museum of Natural History - Young Naturalist Award

We'll be hearing about Aiden again, I'm sure -
 
Love the real-world mash-up aspect of "subjects" - art, history, math, science, english - his project reflects.

Nothing like a 13-year-old to remind us adults to take the time to look at things with new
eyes and that there's a lot to learn. 

Link to this fascinating project here with an excerpt below of Aiden's essay.

- C.J. Westerberg

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"People see winter as a cold and gloomy time in nature. The days are short. Snow blankets the ground. Lakes and ponds freeze, and animals scurry to burrows to wait for spring. The rainbow of red, yellow and orange autumn leaves has been blown away by the wind turning trees into black skeletons that stretch bony fingers of branches into the sky. It seems like nature has disappeared.   aidan_thumb_08.jpg

But when I went on a winter hiking trip in the Catskill Mountains in New York, I noticed something strange about the shape of the tree branches. I thought trees were a mess of tangled branches, but I saw a pattern in the way the tree branches grew. I took photos of the branches on different types of trees, and the pattern became clearer.

The branches seemed to have a spiral pattern that reached up into the sky. I had a hunch that the trees had a secret to tell about this shape. Investigating this secret led me on an expedition from the Catskill Mountains to the ancient Sanskrit poetry of India; from the 13th-century streets of Pisa, Italy, and a mysterious mathematical formula called the "divine number" to an 18th-century naturalist who saw this mathematical formula in nature; and, finally, to experimenting with the trees in my own backyard.

My investigation asked the question of whether there is a secret formula in tree design and whether the purpose of the spiral pattern is to collect sunlight better. After doing research, I put together test tools, experiments and design models to investigate how trees collect sunlight. At the end of my research project, I put the pieces of this natural puzzle together, and I discovered the answer. But the best part was that I discovered a new way to increase the efficiency of solar panels at collecting sunlight!

My investigation started with trying to understand the spiral pattern. I found the answer with a medieval mathematician and an 18th-century naturalist. In 1209 in Pisa, Leonardo of Pisano, also known as "Fibonacci," used his skills to answer a math puzzle about how fast rabbits could reproduce in pairs over a period of time. While counting his newborn rabbits, Fibonacci came up with a numerical sequence. Fibonacci used patterns in ancient Sanskrit poetry from India to make a sequence of numbers starting with zero (0) and one (1). Fibonacci added the last two numbers in the  . . . "




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It had long since come to my attention that people of accomplishment rarely sat back and let things happen to them. They went out and happened to things.
Leonardo da Vinci
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