F.D.C. Willard was 7 years old when he became a published researcher. As you might expect with someone so gifted at such a young age, there were some difficulties in coping with fame. His personality was sometimes described in less-than-flattering terms. Some called him aloof, frustratingly-independent, and almost-obsessive about cleanliness. Others went so far as to say that his behavior was rather catty. These descriptions didn’t seem to trouble Willard, however. His aforesaid aloofness might factor into this. It could also have something to do with the fact that he was, in fact, a cat.
In 1975, Michigan State University physics professor Jack H. Hetherington wrote a paper exploring atomic behavior at different temperatures. The paper’s title, “Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3He,” gives you a pretty good clue that this is not light and casual reading for the great unwashed. If you want to read it, however, click on the title. For the type of people who enjoy that sort of thing, it’s exactly the sort of thing that type of people would enjoy.
Prior to sending his paper off for publication with the Physical Review Journal, Hetherington asked some colleagues to critique the work. One piece of feedback he received was the disconnect between his use of “we” throughout the paper and the fact that he was listed as the sole author.
Hetherington had two choices. He could replace all of the plural pronouns with “I,” or he could add a co-author to the paper. Since it was 1975, the first option was not quite as simple as doing a search and replace on with a word processor. The paper had been written with a typewriter. Granted, the published version is only three pages long, but those pages are replete with expressions such as:
Retyping all of that just to fix a few pronouns was not an enviable task. Hetherington chose, instead, to add a co-author to his work. The colleague he chose to share the credit for his work was his Siamese cat, Chester. Chester was identified as F.D.C. Willard. The initials stood for Felix Domesticus Chester. He used his father’s name, Willard, for Chester’s surname.
Hetherington’s paper was accepted and saw print in the November 21, 1975, issue of Physical Review Letters. When his colleagues learned of Chester’s participation in the publication, the feline author quickly gained celebrity status. Hetherington went so far as to send some reprints of the article to friends and family, autographed by both authors.
Chester went on to publish another article in 1980, this time as the sole author. The paper, “L’hélium 3 solide. Un antiferromagnétique nucléaire,” was written in French and published in the science magazine La Recherche.
Chester basked in his celebrity status until 1982 when he cashed in his ninth life. Although only fourteen years old at the time of his death, he managed to leave an indelible mark in the world of physics. To date, he is the only cat known to have authored a published scientific paper.
Read about more animals that shaped history.
Read more fun facts about education.
Categories: Accomplishments and Records, Animals, Education, Hoaxes and Pranks, Physics, Science
2 replies »