STEM Tuesday: Landing on my feet

We all want “land on our feet” after a bad experience.  There’s even a book called Land on your feet, not on your face. It’s a leadership book, not a book about how to stay upright on your bicycle.  I could use one on the latter subject, since I have an uncanny ability to hit my noggin every single time I fall.  I believe it’s because of my undying belief that I can right myself and not fall.  At any rate, my phenomenon results in me taking an Arty Johnson type plunge into the sidewalk or roadway. (Remember LaughIn?)  Yes, that is why I always wear a helmet.

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I probably should take photos while I’m on my bicycle

Did you know that the phrase, “land on your feet,” may have come from cats’ uncanny ability to land on their feet after a fall?  Cats can do this because they have what’s known as “cat righting reflex.” Cats have an unusually flexible spine and no collar bones to get in the way of twisting around. Although yoga will help me with the flexibility, I, alas, will continue to have collar bones.

Scientists believe cats have this ability because in nature, they spend a lot of time in trees.  Any creature who does that, has a survival advantage if it can land safely.

Cats are so good at landing safely, they’re said to have nine lives, and to be the familiars of witches.  People got so concerned about the possible bewitching of cats, they routinely defenestrated them, and lo and behold, the cats landed on their feet and walked away.  (New vocabulary word for the week:  defenestration:  throwing someone or something out of a window.)

My cats, Sasha and Misha love to sit by my office window. They love to practice fight, just like human sisters.

I love WBEZ.  Last week I heard a piece about cats falling out of buildings in Manhattan. Cats plummet to the ground at a rate of one each day during the summer in Manhattan.   No, they’re no longer being thrown out of windows.   Most likely, the cats fall because they plunge after a bird or insect that their primal instinct tells them are suitable prey. even though they just had some kitty kibble and really don’t need to hunt. Anyways, that’s enough “raining cats”  to make up a small study.

It turns out that those cats who fall less than 5 stories, pretty much walk away unfazed. Those who fall more than 9 stories seem to walk away with only minor injuries.  [tweetthis]One cat fell 42 stories and only had some thoracic bruise and a chipped tooth.[/tweetthis]. This happens so much that it has its own name: “high-rise syndrome.

According to a BBC report:

In a 1987 study of 132 cats brought to a New York City emergency veterinary clinic after falls from high-rise buildings, 90% of treated cats survived and only 37% needed emergency treatment to keep them alive.

However,  those who fell between 5 and 9 stories had the worst injuries.  Why?

As the cat approaches the ninth floor, gravity pulls them faster and faster, until they’re going about 60 miles an hour.  After that, the wind resistance equals the velocity and the fall is on “cruise.” The cat begins to relax and spread out a bit like a flying squirrel. The high-rise falling cat ends up belly flopping on impact, thus the bruised chest and chipped tooth.



The next segment on WBEZ tells us why we fall at all.  This flummoxed even Einstein.  Why we fall. It has something to do with the curvature of space and time.  To find out more, go here.

I found another video of a cat in zero gravity.  The cat’s reflexes quickly reoriented him to whatever surface was near.  Since the cat floated in zero-gravity, the surface kept changing, which essentially made the cat keep spinning around, trying to land on a new surface.  Although scientifically interesting, it looked pretty cruel.

Here’s something I never considered.  The cat must get all four paws facing the ground, with nothing to spring against.  To do this, she spins the front part of her body in the opposite direction as the bottom half.  It’s the same mechanism figure skaters use to pirouette.  The BBC has a bunch of caracal cat behavior videos that I found fascinating.

Sasha and Misha do  this when they trie to catch a “bird” on the end of a fishing pole. They seem to be having so much fun.

I wonder who can tell me why I fail to put my hand or foot out to break my fall when my bicycle grows unsteady and a fall is unavoidable?