A researcher at the Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta has developed a hair brush inspired by a cat's tongue.
A researcher at Georgia Tech Research Institute in Atlanta has developed a hair brush of the future - the design based on a cat's tongue.
Alexis Noel was inspired after she watched her own cat get its tongue stuck on a fuzzy blanket.
"So I was home for the break during my PhD studies, and my family cat, Murphy, decided to sit on my lap, on top of a microfibre blanket.
"For some reason he thought the blanket smelled really tasty, so he decided to take a lick. And he actually got his tongue stuck on some of those loops of the fabric," she said.
It prompted her to think whether the rough surface of her pet's tongue could be replicated for human use as a grooming appliance.
"It got me thinking. Why on earth did this tongue get stuck in the first place? I thought cat tongues were like sandpaper.
"So I came back to the lab, we happened to have a cat tongue in the freezer and I took a closer look under a microscope. That's where it all started," she said.
Using high-speed video, she discovered that sharp, claw-shaped barbs cover the front of the tongue.
Noel discovered that the barbs had hollow scoops in them, a trait shared by larger felines such as bobcats, cougars, snow leopards, lions and tigers.
"They actually have a shape very similar to cat claws. So they're curved on the top and curved on the bottom. But different from cat claws, they actually have a U-shaped channel on the very bottom of the spine."
She believes the spines are the key to cat grooming, by providing a way to get saliva through thick fur and down to the skin.
As an experiment, she dripped food dye onto the tip of the spines, to see how the liquid stays inside, until the cat's tongue presses on the fur.
It emerged that without the spines, cats' saliva wouldn't get all the way to the skin.
Noel used a 3D printer to create a brush covered in cat tongue-like spines.
"So we created a tongue-inspired hairbrush to look at if we can mimic the way that the cat grooms its fur, to show that fluid can be distributed down to the roots of the hairs."
The researcher is applying for a patent for it.
She said they see more use for their discovery too.
"Applications from this tongue study could be new types of carpet-cleaning technologies, or ways to apply medication to your pet's fur, skin.
"Or even, potentially, ways to reduce allergens in cat fur for people who have allergies," she added.