Research on Cat Tongues Wins China’s Bizarre Science Award

A winner dresses up as Garfield at the ceremony of 2019 Pineapple Science Award in Hangzhou, capital of east China's Zhejiang Province, on Oct. 26, 2019. (Xinhua/Yin Xiaosheng)

HANGZHOU (Xinhua) — Cat tongues are more efficient than brushes, longer vacations mean a longer life, even dinosaurs suffered from cervical spondylosis… what is arguably the most bizarre science award in China once again paid its annual tribute to the spirit of curiosity.

“It’s a fantastic award because it celebrates not only science, but curiosity in particular. Science is not always a straight path. You have to follow your curiosity, sometimes you get lost, and sometimes you discover the unexpected,” said Marcos Martinon-Torres, a professor with the University of Cambridge, who won a chemistry prize on Saturday.

Legend has it that ancient Chinese craftsmen had mastered advanced chromium metal coating technology so that the bronze swords unearthed from Xi’an’s Terracotta Warriors pit were almost rustless.

But Marcos found it was the pit soil that functioned as a natural preservative due to its suitable ph-value, small amounts of organic matter and fine granular structure.


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British scientist Marcos Martinon-Torres receives a prize at the ceremony of 2019 Pineapple Science Award in Hangzhou, capital of east China’s Zhejiang Province, on Oct. 26, 2019. (Xinhua/Yin Xiaosheng)

China’s equivalent of the Ig Nobel Prizes, the U.S. parody of the Nobel, the Pineapple award is given in fields including psychology, physics and biology. Ten awards were handed to global scientists who based their seemingly trivial findings on serious scientific activities.

David Hu and his team from the Georgia Institute of Technology won this year’s physics prize for “bringing a new dawn to the brush industry,” 10,000 years after the brush was invented.

Based on the research of tongues of six felines, Hu designed a highly efficient, detergent-saving brush that simulated the barbed microstructure of a cat tongue.

For as far back as medical records stretch, cervical spondylosis was thought to be a disease unique to bipedal human beings, born from the need to directly support the head on a cervical spine.

But thanks to Xing Lida, a professor with the China University of Geosciences, and his team consisted of paleontologists from China, the United States and Japan, have come to realize that humans do not have a monopoly on cervical spondylosis.

They detected cervical arthropathy from dinosaur fossils, a finding so profound they were able to secure a Pineapple prize for biology.


First held in 2012 to honor imaginative research, the Pineapple awards are co-sponsored by the Zhejiang Science Museum and Guokr, China’s leading popular science website. The award aims at arousing public enthusiasm for science among China’s younger generation.

“Our goal is to make people see the beauty of science. We hope to help everyone get to know and understand science out of pure curiosity, and bring out their love and respect for science,” said Xu Rui, with the Zhejiang Science Museum.