Famous Physics Cat, Second Only to Schrodinger’s #physics #science #cats #research #quote #cat #humor

siamese cat

This isn’t FDC Willard, but let’s pretend it is, with some of his many academic awards

“Science must be understood as a gutsy human enterprise.” Stephen Jay Gould

Yes, scientists are human. They even have a sense of humor – consider the career of F.D.C. Willard. He’s known for being listed as an author of serious research papers, and he’s a cat.

It seems Jack H. Hetherington, a Michigan State University physics professor, wrote a soon-to-be-influential paper on the low-temperature physics of helium-3 isotopes. He was the sole author, but in the formal tone of research, he had

written the entire paper using the “we” pronoun. This was against the journal’s style rules. Hetherington’s paper would surely be rejected if it wasn’t retyped. livescience

visit Kate Rauner's blog - science and scifiLike any of us, he hated the idea of retyping his paper, so he solved his problem with a touch of whimsy. He added a co-author, his cat Felis Domesticus Chester, or F.D.C. He gave F.D.C. a family name following the usual practice of Americans, adding the cat’s father’s name of Willard. Now there were two authors and no need to change the paper.

Hetherington’s solution wasn’t a secret. His colleagues were fine with it and even enjoyed the joke. F.D.C. Willard became famous in the small world of helium-3 physics.

visit Kate Rauner's blog - science and scifiSeveral years later, a French paper on helium-3 appeared under a single author’s name: F.D.C. Willard. Apparently, the actual research team could not agree on a version of the paper that satisfied them all, so they decided to credit America’s best-published cat instead. livescience

F.D. C. Willard appeared henceforth repeatedly in footnotes, where he was thanked for “useful contributions to the discussion” or oral communications, and was even offered a professorship by a Professor and Imminently Erstwhile Chairman:

In response to your valued letter of 25 November: let me admit at once that if you had not written I should never have had the temerity to think of approaching so distinguished a physicist as F. D. C. Willard, F.R.S.C., with a view to interesting him in joining a university department like ours, which after all, was not even rated among the best 30 in the 1969 Roose-Anderson study… Can you imagine the universal jubilation if in fact Willard could be persuaded to join us, even if only as a Visiting Distinguished Professor? wikipedia

On April 1, 2014 (note the date) the American Physical Society announced that cat-authored papers, including the Hetherington/Willard paper, would henceforth be open-access, rather than behind a pay-wall.

This post is mostly quotations, because I can’t improve on reality.

If you plan a career in research, be sure to take your sense of humor with you. After all, you might have to survive your colleagues knowing you announced you discovered Mars.