I'm smarter than you.
I've learned quite a bit from my pets. From my feline housemates, for example, I've gleaned a lesson from the 'fight-and-nap,' when a prolonged face-off between two cats turns into a doze by both parties. Which I take to mean that rather than letting trivial disagreements bother us, we humans should just let them go.
But it turns out that this lesson is the tip of the iceberg. My pets are, it seems, a collective of miniature physicists covered in fur, as evidenced by two recent experiments that use high-speed video footage.
The way a cat drinks, for instance, depends on its innate ability to balance the inertia of upward-moving water with the gravity pulling down on that liquid, according to a study done by a small team of engineers at Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The work is published in last Thursday's issue of Science.
Cats lightly touch the tips of their tongues to water to drink -- that much is obvious. What you don't see in real time is that the tongue tap draws a column of liquid upward. Just when the water column nears its highest point, the mouth of the cat quickly shuts around it, the researchers found. You can read more about it in the New York Times, R&D Magazine and Time (the latter includes a sweet slow-mo video). Ed Yong has a nice discussion of this going on his blog, Not Exactly Rocket Science. I was surprised to learn that the scratchy hairs on a cat's tongue have nothing to do with the way it laps water.
In another new study, which will be presented at a fluid dynamics meeting next week, scientists from the Georgia Institute of Technology worked out how quickly dogs and other furry animals have to shake to dry themselves.
The shake is an oscillation that begins at the head and moves throughout the body, and must be frequent enough to overcome the forces that hold water to the body. So, the smaller the animal, the faster it must shake, the group found.
Discovery News reports that companies such as Whirlpool are interested in incorporating these drying principles into washing machine designs.
Whether these new findings inspire any life lessons for me remains to be seen, but they do confirm my sneaking suspicion that cats and dogs are somewhat brilliant.
Check out this awesome video of various animals dry themselves (courtesy of David Hu's group):
For SFARI.org, I recently reported on how scientists are testing iPad applications in kids with autism. There aren't any published studies on the iPad yet, but people with the disorder have already started using its apps to communicate more easily and to keep track of schedules. Read the full piece here.
The article focuses on the potential benefits for kids, but I couldn't help noticing that iPads and other touch-screen devices are also a boon for parents and teachers. For example, Leslie Phillips, an instructor at the Mariposa School for Children with Autism in Cary, N.C., says that using the iPod touch's Behavior Tracker Pro app to monitor behaviors helps teachers get more accurate measures of the types and duration of behaviors, compared to paper-based tools. And, of course, any time-saving tools are helpful because the teachers have to not only track the behavior, but respond to it.