The mystery of why cats purr has long been debated by scientists. While we're still not sure as to the why, we can now see what a cat's purr looks like - thanks to acoustical physics research scientist Casey Attebery, AKA Mr. E-Scholar, and a special cymatic device.
Cymatics is the study of sound and vibration made visible. Cymatics uses this device as a frequency generator that uses sand, powders, or liquids to create and capture animated patterns.
While cymatics doesn’t really ‘show’ what a cat’s purr looks like, it can create patterns using liquids activated by the resonance of a cat purring. Using a small dish of fluid attached to a speaker, Attebery is able to capture in image form the unique purrs of four cats: Fran, Yuri, Tigger and Effie.
A still image of cat Fran's purr.
As the vibrations from the cat purrs move the liquid, custom-colored lights illuminate and capture the movement of the liquid, and thus the ‘movement’ of the purr.
The video below demonstrates the results of cymatics to a beautiful effect - and as a bonus, soothing cat purrs.
Do you see any recognizable shapes in these almost psychedelic patterns?
Scientists have learned that cats purr with a consistent pattern and sound frequencies between 25 and 150 Hertz; these fluctuating frequencies provide the varying visual patterns shown in the videos.
We may not know exactly why cats purr. But we know that many species of felid produce a “purr-like” sound. And in domestic cats, the sound is most prevalent when a cat is nursing her kittens or through human social contact.
Many cat parents may assume that a cat’s purr is a pleasure response, but did you know that cats also use purring during stressful moments, or in response to pain? Some researchers believe purring acts as a form of self-soothing - and maybe even self-healing.
Remember those 25 and 150 Hertz frequencies we mentioned earlier? Investigations have shown that frequencies in this range can "improve bone density and promote healing" as per Scientific American.
[h/t Cole and Marmalade]