When Alexis Noel watched her cat lick a microfiber blanket, she probably didn't think about it's implications for her future. But when the tongue of her feline was stuck to it and the doctoral candidate in mechanical engineering had to help him get rid of it, she took a closer look and decided to investigate.
First using macro and high-speed videography equipment, then printing the imitation of a cat tongue in soft plastic material in 3-D at 400% scale. Thanks to her and her colleagues at the Georgia Institute of Technology, we know now exactly how the mechanism works.
The tongue of a cat helps him to drink, separate the meat from the bone of the prey and is an effective instrument for grooming, especially to look for and untangle knots in his hair.
Its structure, which appears to the touch wet sandpaper, is composed of tiny sharp hooks, which the researcher compares to the nails of a cat. They work as a velcro: Pressed on a surface the tongue flattens and the tiny hooks separate, trapping the particles between them. When not in use the highly flexible hooks are folded over one another like roof tiles, pointing in only one direction.
This allows to remove the hair accumulated on it easily, rubbing it from tip to tip, but due to the direction (inwards) then the cat swallows the hair, which can form fur balls in his stomach.
We can observe 4 phases during cleaning: tongue expansion, lateral expansion, sweeping through the skin and V-shaped curl retraction.
Noel and her colleagues presented their research at the 69th Annual Meeting of the American Society of Physics Division Fluid Dynamics last week in Portland, Oregon. And they filed a patent to develop cat tongue imitation technology, which may have important implications for the world of soft robotics, cosmetic industry and health fields.