Fun Fact: In 1975, a Cat Co-Authored a Physics Paper

Posted by Tori Holmes
cat co-authored a physics paper

After realizing his paper needed a second author, one physicist decided to offer the spot to a rather unconventional colleague: his cat.

In 1975, Dr. Jack H. Hetherington, a physics professor at Michigan State University had finished writing a paper exploring the behavior of the helium-3 isotope at various temperatures.

Dr. Hetherington knew that these results would have a big impact on the field, so he was anxious to get them published. However, when he was getting ready to submit the paper to his selected journal, "Physical Review Letters," a colleague pointed out a problem.

Throughout the paper, Dr. Hetherington had used "we" despite the fact that he was the sole author. His colleague knew that this would be reason enough for the journal to reject the paper, as they had a specific rule prohibiting the use of "we" without multiple authors.

Instead of going back through the paper and changing all instances of "we" to "I," Dr. Hetherington decided to try something a bit unconventional. He called his secretary and asked them to draft a new title page for the paper, but this time to include a second author: F.D.C. Willard.

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Who is F.D.C. Willard you ask? He is none-other than Dr. Hetherington's family cat, Chester. Chester was the son of a cat named Willard, which helped round out the pen name of F.D.C. Willard, or Felis Domesticus Chester Willard.

With this new title page featuring the needed second author, the paper was quickly accepted into the journal for publication.

The best part is, the identity of the mystery second author was only discovered after the paper was published. A visitor to Michigan State requested to speak to Dr. Hetherington, but he was currently unavailable. He then asked if he could speak with Willard, which lead to some laughs within the department and the cat being let out of the bag, you could say.

F.D.C. Willard did eventually publish one more paper, remarkably as the sole author, before he decided to retire from the field of physics.

Chester may be gone, but his impact on modern physics keeps his memory alive. Thanks for your lifetime of hard work, Chester!

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Fun Fact: In 1975, a Cat Co-Authored a Physics Paper