A 1975 Physics Paper Was Co-Authored by a Siamese Cat

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It’s been proven that owning a cat has real scientific benefits, but it turns out, they’ve also been a benefit to science. Over 40 years ago, a Midwestern feline co-authored a physics paper.

As Atlas Obscura reports, in 1975, Michigan State University professor Jack H. Hetherington had just completed an academic study called Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3He, which focused on atomic behavior at high and low temperatures. He was ready to submit the writing when a colleague noted a bit of a problem: Hetherington had used the plural pronoun "we" throughout, though he was the only author. That might seem like a minor infraction, but the intended publication, Physical Review Letters, would likely not approve.

Hetherington wasn't too keen to rewrite his work, which had been drawn up on a typewriter, and tacking on another human author was problematic for a number of reasons. So the professor did the only logical thing and employed the identity of his Siamese cat, Chester. The name "F.D.C. Willard" was added (the first name stood for "Felix Domesticus, Chester" and "Willard" was the name of the cat’s father).

The article was successfully published in Physical Review Letters, but the charade didn’t last for long. However, there wasn’t much fallout for the scientist or his feline faux-author. In fact, Hetherington capitalized on it—releasing copies of the paper with autographs in the form of a signature and a pawprint. In 1980, Willard published a paper on his own, written entirely in French. (A real Renaissance man, this cat.)

MSU’s Physics Chairman, Truman Woodruff, even asked Hetherington if Willard would be interested in a full-time staff position, writing: "Can you imagine the universal jubilation if in fact Willard could be persuaded to join us, even if only as a Visiting Distinguished Professor?"

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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