IDEA #57. Look for patterns in nature—start by learning about Fibonacci numbers and then hunting for them, both in nature and in man-made situations. What is the most surprising place you find a Fibonacci series?
There are innumerable patterns in nature, but few are quite so common or so startling as Fibonacci numbers. Leonardo Fibonacci, a 13th-century Italian mathematician, noted the property of a series of numbers 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13 …, where the next number in the series is the sum of the two numbers preceding it.
Interesting to a mathematician, perhaps, but astounding when one notes the many ways in which nature enacts Fibonacci’s series. The number of seeds on a pine cone, the proportions of a chambered nautilus shell, the number of petals on a flower—all express the regular pattern of a Fibonacci series.
And while these number sequences are common, there are other patterns to be observed in nature—the number of leaves on a stem, the pattern of leaf alternation that separates False Solomon Seal (a shrub) from the real thing, the structure of insects, the times when certain birds sing, the relationship between the temperature of the water in a lake and the direction of the wind. The more closely one observes the natural world, the more the young scientist discovers order and symmetry and balance. The Fibonacci series is just one amazing example.
If the young observer is inclined to keep a journal of his or her “discoveries,” any science or mathematics teacher would be more than pleased to see and discuss the results.