Falling Felines and Fundamental Physics

Gregory J. Gbur

Why do falling cats always land on their feet? The question has long intrigued humans. Discover how the solution stumped brilliant minds and how it helped solve other seemingly impossible puzzles. In this playful and eye-opening history, physicist and cat parent Gbur explores how attempts to understand the cat-righting reflex have provided crucial insights into puzzles in mathematics, geophysics, neuroscience, and human space exploration.

The result is Falling Felines (Yale University Press 2019), an engaging tumble through physics, physiology, photography, and robotics to uncover, through scientific debate, the secret of the acrobatic performance known as cat-turning, the cat flip, and the cat twist. We learn the “why” but also discover that its finer details still inspire heated arguments. As with other cat behavior, the more we investigate, the more surprises we discover.

Dr. Gbur is a cat parent. He also is a physicist who specializes in the study of classical coherence theory in optical physics and a professor in the Department of Physics and Optical Science in UNC Charlotte’s College of Liberal Arts & Sciences. Gbur runs two different blogs about science and other topics: Skulls in the Stars: The intersection of physics, optics, history, and pulp fiction, and Science Chamber of Horrors: Presenting the freakiest and most terrifying aspects of science, scientists, and nature – currently on hiatus.

Dr. Gbur’s Personally Speaking talk was on Tuesday, February 23. Registration for this presentation is closed.