In Which I Visit a Penguin Experiment and Hilarity Ensues

A few months ago, I noticed a tweet from John Hutchinson, saying that he was going to London Zoo to study their penguins, and how they move. I’ve covered Hutchinson’s work before; it frequently involves ushering animals over force-plates. And since the animals in this case would be penguins, it was practically guaranteed that something amusing would happen. Because penguins. So, I tagged along, and then wrote about it for the New Yorker’s Elements blog. It’s my first piece for them. Here’s a taster:

The first penguin approached. With an agility that belied its bumbling demeanor, it leaped straight over the smaller force plates. The second penguin seemed more circumspect, pausing at length to examine the unfamiliar terrain. Matyasova lured it on with sprat, but a third penguin blundered forward, joining it on the large force plate—a four-footed, two-penguin chimera. Matyasova then tried putting a penguin directly on the plate: it stood still and pecked at the duct tape holding the corridor together. Fortunately, this was just a dry run, though it was clear that Hutchinson’s patience was being tested as much as his equipment. “It almost always takes a while for the animals to get used to what you want them to do,” he said. “They’ll get progressively more coöperative.”