Coming in 2018: Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics!

I’ve only been hinting at this revelation so far, but I am finally ready to let the cat out of the bag — almost literally!  I have signed a contract with Yale University Press to write my first popular science book, which I have tentatively titled “Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics!”

This book will combine physics and history to tell the surprisingly long story of scientists and engineers studying the remarkable ability of a cat to (almost) always land on its feet when it falls from a height. In other words, I will talk about images such as the famous one below, which was the first series of high-speed photographs taken of a falling cat, back in the 1890s.

Side view of a falling cat, by Marey. Images chronological from right to left, top to bottom.

Scientists and engineers have been fascinated by falling cats for a remarkably long time, stretching back at least as far as the 1850s and continuing to some extent even today.  The puzzle of “cat-turning,” as it was known in Victorian times, has played a noteworthy role in the history of photography, geophysics, robotics, and even space exploration.  Furthermore, the basic mechanism by which a cat rights itself while falling is connected to very profound mathematics related to the propagation of light, quantum physics, the motion of pendulums, and even parallel parking.

In telling the story, we will come across a number of famous physicists, such as James Clerk Maxwell, the father of electromagnetism, and see that cats — with their cat-turning — have caused all sorts of mischief over the years.  The book will contain many illustrations of cats in free-fall, as many photos have been taken over the years…

Series of images of a falling cat, taken by Magnus in 1922.

… and it will also include some images of my own cats, to help illustrate the physics without complicated mathematics!

Resident feline fluidity expert Cookie demonstrates the bendy-ness of cats.

My book, Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics, will take a light-hearted look at the history of the falling cat problem, and will at the same time use it to introduce fascinating and fun concepts in physics. The book is intended for anyone interested in physics, or cats, or both.  And it will include cat pictures!

I’m really excited to tell you this story! I’ve still got a lot of work to do, both writing and research, but the book is due to be finished in mid-2018, which means you will hopefully be able to read it in the second half of that year!

I will keep everyone updated on my progress!

(PS: haven’t forgotten the entanglement series of posts: was out of town for work this past week. Will return to it asap.)

Here, at the Dr. SkySkull Feline Angular Momentum lab, Sabrina and Sasha take a break from their researches.

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This entry was posted in Animals, History of science, Personal, Physics. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Coming in 2018: Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics!

  1. Kristyle says:

    That’s so awesome! I’m really excited for you and I can’t wait to read it – congrats!

  2. andyextance says:

    Sounds like a winner to me!

  3. Mala Burt says:

    Congratulations. Love the tentative title.

  4. KeithB says:

    There was a scientific American article about 20 years ago.

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