What is it about a cat's tongue that's so inspiring? If you ask mechanical engineers Alexis Noel and David Hu, it's their unique cleaning ability - one that, if successfully imitated, could bring a new technology to many industries.
A cat's tongue is spiny, we know, but Noel and Hu at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta went further to examine cat tongues in motion under microscopic computed tomography to see why they are so effective at de-tangling, deep-cleaning, and moisturizing their own fur.
Using tongues from deceased house cats, bobcats, cougars, snow leopards, tigers, and lions, the engineers found that the hollow papillae of the cats' tongues were curved under, but flexible, giving them the ability to reach far into their thick fur, to de-tangle, draw up soil, and deposit saliva onto the fur and skin.
(That is what you call deep cleaning!)
The researchers, Noel and Hu, have now developed the tongue-inspired grooming (TIGR) brush with 3D-printed artificial papillae that are 4 times larger than in a regular feline. The TIGR brush can not only be used by cats and other animals to eliminate knots, but to distribute moisture in the form of water, lotions, and/or medications onto the skin... without annoying your cat, like regular brushes.
Hopefully, this technology can be use for other purposes (like carpet cleaning!) in the future. I'm sure there are many fields that can take advantage of it.
But, back to our cats. Did you know that cats spend between 15 and 50 percent of their time grooming? And that that's considered normal!