Nobel Prize


Cats are one of the many mysteries of the universe, and how they move is just the tip of the feline iceberg

Quick Notes

  • Cats might be closer to being a liquid than any of us thought

  • Marc-Antoine Fardin won the 2017 Ig Nobel Prize for his research into the rheology of cats

  • His study utilized the science behind the relaxation time and experimentation time of matter … on cats

In 2017, Marc-Antoine Fardin won the Ig Nobel Prize for his research into the rheology of cats. More specifically, Fardin aimed to uncover the correct matter category that our feline friends/foes fell under. His studies held a straightforward question at their center: are cats closer to a liquid than they are a solid?

In terms of the traditional definition, a liquid is defined as a state of matter that alters its shape to fit whatever container it is placed into. If you pour water into a circular dish, the water will form a circle. If you pour it into a square dish, it’ll create a square shape. While cats don’t immediately change shape based on their surroundings, they certainly contort in unusual ways.

There are millions upon millions of cat memes on the internet, with millions more being generated right this second. Many of those feature cats in bizarre positions, or situations where they do not belong. All you need to do is Google ‘jar cat’ to understand why this theory came to fruition.

Cats could be considered gloopy…?

It may seem initially absurd to imagine that a cat could be classified as a liquid, but with the traditional definition considered, there is a strong argument to be made. The conventional definition of a liquid makes not only a note of the shape-altering properties but also the time it takes for matter to complete this process.

The time it takes for liquid matter to mold to its surroundings is called the relaxation time. This time is either shorter or longer based upon the viscosity (gloopiness) of the liquid in question. For instance, water has a swift relaxation time, whereas a thicker substance, such as syrup, would have a longer relaxation time.


With this in mind, Fardin argues that cats are indeed liquids: they have a very long relaxation time. When given enough time to complete the process, cats can indeed alter their shape to fit unique spaces they find themselves in. Be it glass jar, cardboard box, or neck of a bottle: cats won’t be stopped.

It is also hilariously characteristic that a cat can and will be a liquid, but only on its time. You can’t tell a cat to be a liquid. A cat will be a liquid when it’s good and ready.

A relaxed cat is a liquid cat because Deborah said so

The science behind Fardin’s liquid hypothesis stems beyond the fact that cats squeeze themselves into strange positions. When deciding if something is liquid or solid, it is conventional to utilize the equation of relaxation time divided by experimentation time. The latter is the time that has passed since the ‘matter’ has begun the process of deformation.

If the result of this equation is higher than one, then the matter is considered solid. If it is lower than one, it is deemed to be liquid. This is referred to as the Deborah number, named after the Biblical priestess of the same name. Due to this method of matter-categorization, even if the relaxation time is as long as days or years, the matter can be considered liquid if it possesses a low Deborah number.

It’s entirely plausible that they could indeed be less corporeal than we’re led to believe

The results of Fardin’s academic insight into the liquid nature of cats does precisely what an Ig Nobel Prize-winning study should do: it makes us laugh, and then it makes us think. While it initially seems entirely insane to consider cats as anything but solid, trouble-making animals, after some thought, it’s entirely plausible that they could indeed be less corporeal than we’re led to believe.

Fardin ultimately demonstrated more than a cat’s unstable matter classification, however. He succeeded in highlighting and problematizing how matter is categorized, and specifically how much more complicated and nuanced matter is than the rather simplistic solid/liquid/gas archetypes allow for. All I know is every time I see a cat meme now, I will think of Fardin’s research.

A deeper dive – Related reading on the 101

If it’s possible for a cat to be both a solid and a liquid at the same time, it’s entirely possible Schrodinger was right the whole time

Heartbreakingly, as many as 10% of the US population is allergic to our feline friends, but the race is on for a cure

First of all, rude. Second of all, I’m not surprised, but why do they choose to ignore us?