Before stadium seating, the design thinking behind staggered seats in theaters was to provide line of sight. Better to view the stage partially obscured by two people's shoulders than stare squarely at the back of someone's head.
Photovoltaic arrays on solar farms have a similar problem, in that they must be placed in such a way that each panel does not block the sun's line of sight from its neighbors:
The problem is that this takes up a lot of space. In seeking to solve this issue, an MIT assistant professor of mechanical engineering named Alexander Mitsos and a grad student of his, Corey Noone, struck upon what they believed was a novel arrangement.
By arranging arrays in a computer model, Mitsos and Noone were able to calculate an optimal layout that allowed each panel to soak up as much energy as possible while the sun moved across the sky. When Manuel Torrilhon, a researcher at Germany's Aachen University, saw their design, he realized he'd seen something similar before. In a sunflower.
The florets in the core of a sunflower grow into the Fibonacci sequence, arrayed in what's known as a Fermat spiral. Mitsos and Noone's design was so similar to this that Torrilhon suggested they match it exactly, and once they had, they achieved a space-saving figure of nearly 20%.
Mitsos and Noone have filed their design for patent protection. But anyone who wants access to the "plans" just needs to go flower picking.
via the economist