A cat ended up co-authoring a major physics study after its owner didn’t bother to correct a mistake, according to an investigation published this week by Atlas Obscura.
When Dr. Jack Hetherington, a physicist at Michigan State University, was typing up his solely authored research in 1975 he made frequent use of the first person plurals of “we and “our.” The study, entitled “Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3He” was an in-depth exploration of how atoms behave at different temperatures. Rather than rewriting the article to fix it using a typewriter, he decided to invented a co-author.
Hetherington invented “F.D.C. Willard” after his cat Chester, but obscured the name because he was afraid that some of his colleagues would recognize it. The “F.D.” comes from the Latin species name for cat, Felix domesticus, and the “C” come from Chester. Willard was the name of the cat’s father.
Hetherington’s research with Chester was published in the journal Physical Review Letters, which today describes itself as “the world’s premier physics letter journal.”
Soon, Hetherington’s colleagues discovered the feline scientist and the cat was out of the bag. The colleagues went along with the joke, describing Chester as the university’s “Rodentia Predation Consultant” and repeatedly referenced the cat in their own research.
University officials loved the idea of the cat as a mascot of the physics department and eventually asked the cat to become a professor. “F.D.C Willard” went on to publish another paper in 1980 as the sole author.
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