Museum of Science and Industry

The Physics of Cats

September 10, 2012

Ever wonder how cats always find a way to land on their feet? Well, Alabama engineer and web science host Destin (who withholds his surname for his children's privacy) decided he’d find out for himself, asking scientific questions that physicists, engineers, and biologists have been studying since Newton.

Using a high speed camera and willing "stunt cat" GiGi, Destin films a number of drops to study how cats move while in the air to assure they’ll land paws first. It turns out that cats use a number of biological traits (but not, surprisingly, their tails) to help right themselves mid-air. Eyes and inner-ear gyroscopes help assess which way is up, and a combination of arched backs and independent movements of front and back paws allow cats to land on their feet. And all while being absolutely adorable.

While it may seem like simple stuff, understanding the physics of cats has allowed scientists to learn more about biomedical engineering, robotics, and even outer space. And while this video asks and answers a lot of awesome questions, it doesn’t answer one of the most perplexing: how on earth did he get GiGi to do more than one take?

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