F.D.C Willard, The Cat Who Co-Authored A Physics Paper

Can a cat write a scientific paper? Well, as it turns out it can! Here’s the story of the feline who published an influential physics paper on an in-depth exploration of atomic behavior at various temperatures.

In the 1970s, Jack H. Hetherington was a physics professor at Michigan State University when he wrote what it ended up becoming one of the most influential and often-cited academic physics paper: Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3He. But there was a problem which he realized just before dispatching it to “Physical Review Letters” scientific journal. 

When Hetherington passed his paper to a colleague to get a last set of eyes, his colleague informed him that he mistakenly used words like “we” and “our” throughout his paper. Because “Physical Review Letters” only accepts plural pronouns and adjectives only when there are multiple authors, he advised him to replace them. But in 1975, this was not an easy task as you couldn’t just perform a find-and-replace search. After all, the whole paper has been typed on a typewriter and that meant that all the papers that needed correction had to be written all over again. (the article continues after the ad)

Because Hetherington didn’t feel like revising it, he found a rather ingenious solution: he used his cat “Chester” (not the one pictured) as a co-author! He went on to invent the name F.D.C Willard from “Felix Domesticus, Chester” and Willard, the name of Chester’s father. He portrayed him as on of his colleagues at Michigan State and submitted his paper that was published on issue 35 of “Physical Review Letters”.

After the paper was published it didn’t take long for F.D.C Willard’s identity to be revealed and surprisingly, the scientific community took it rather lightly. When he saw that casual reveal, Hetherington continued the joke and even issued some reprints that were signed by both authors (circled is F.D.C. Willard’s “signature”):

Photo: More Random Walks in Science / Google Books

According to Hetherington, the only people who didn’t lean into the joke were the editors.

Five years later, in 1980, Hetherington wrote another paper that was completely written in French and this time credited F.D.C Willard as the sole author of the article that was published in the science magazine, La Recherche.  

Inspired by these stories, on April 1st 2014, the American Physical Society declared that all cat-authored papers would be available as open-access documents!

If you like what you read, then you will definitely love this one: Which Hollywood Actress Coauthored A Published Scientific Paper?

Main Article Photo: Creative Commons, www.journals.aps.org
Photoshop: I’m A Useless Info Junkie
Sources: In 1975, a Cat Co-Authored a Physics Paper