Physics and psychology of cats — an improbable conversation – Albuquerque Journal

Cathryn Cunningham/Journal

Have you wondered why cats are so nimble and seem to fit perfectly in cups, boxes and other small places? Or how cats communicate with humans?

Marc Abrahams, editor of the Annals of Improbable Research and master of ceremonies of the annual Ig Nobel Prize, Jean Berko Gleason, psycholinguist and professor emerita of Psychological and Brain Science at Boston University, and Marc-Antoine Fardin, rheology researcher at the University of Paris, discussed this and other cat science questions, probable and improbable, in a fascinating and humorous webinar co-hosted by The Conversation and the Annals of Improbable Research.

Fardin is the winner of the Ig Nobel Prize in physics in 2017 for exploring the use of fluid dynamics to probe the question “Can a cat be both solid and a liquid?”

Below are some highlights from the discussion. Please note that answers have been edited for brevity and clarity.

Marc Abrahams: Rheology is studying anything, everything that flows and, thanks to you, largely, that now includes cats. How did that happen?

Marc-Antoine Fardin: I was on the internet a few years ago and I saw this set of webpages that were discussing whether cats are liquid. And then they had the definition of a liquid. And usually the definition of a liquid is material that takes the shape of its container. (For example,) if I pour liquid into a mug, the liquid is going to take the shape of the mug and if I pour it into a wine glass, it is going to take the shape of the glass.

If you look at a bunch of different cats, there are many different pictures and experiments that have been run by many people around the world where you see the cats taking the shape of the container (they are in), like a box or a sink. People were asking this question. And so I took this question and put it into the modern lingo of rheology.

Marc Abrahams: What does the compressibility of cats refer to?

Marc-Antoine Fardin: Gas in comparison to liquid is compressible. So, it means that, if you were to push it, you could change its volume. And so for cats, once you answer that the cat might be a …….


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