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NEWS
Cat Study Shows Intriguing Gravity Issues
November 17, 2010

Who knew that a cat’s drinking strategy, when studied by Virginia Tech, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), and Princeton engineers, would show a way to defeat gravity, and pull liquid into the feline’s mouth.


The “lapping of domestic cats is governed by the competition between inertia and gravity,” wrote Sunghwan “Sunny” Jung, assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech, and his co-authors Pedro Reis and Roman Stocker, engineering faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Jeffrey M. Aristoff of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University.

The subtle biological trait has implications in bioengineering, and is featured in an article “How cats lap: Water uptake by Felis catus” in a recent publication of Science.

The “lapping of domestic cats is governed by the competition between inertia and gravity,” wrote Sunghwan “Sunny” Jung, assistant professor of engineering science and mechanics at Virginia Tech, and his co-authors Pedro Reis and Roman Stocker, engineering faculty at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and Jeffrey M. Aristoff of mechanical and aerospace engineering at Princeton University.

Their paper describes how they used high-speed photography to reveal the cat’s unique lapping ability. A cat uses the tongue to drink, and the photography illustrated that the animal laps the fluid by a subtle mechanism based on water adhesion to the dorsal side of the tongue.

Thus, a cat is able to exploit fluid inertia to defeat gravity and pull liquid into its mouth. “An interesting implication of this competition between inertia and gravity is that this sets the lapping frequency that depends on the animal’s mass,” they wrote.

“There are significant implications of this for the development of novel microfluidic devices,” said Ishwar Puri, professor and head of the engineering science and mechanics department at Virginia Tech. Microfluidics is the behavior of fluids at the microscale level. A relatively new technology, it has already shown promise in revolutionizing certain procedures in molecular biology and in proteomics, among other fields.

Microfluidic devices are structures that carry a fluid, and applications for this delivery method in the medical field are prolific.


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