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Dr. Clark’s Favorite Halloween Memories
2 Benefits of Volunteering for Older Adults
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3 Helping Fearful Dogs
4 A Cat Helped Write a Physics Paper?
THE TRUE STORY OF F.D.C. WILLARD
A Cat Coauthored an Influential Physics Paper
Cats defy the laws of physics all the time, so it’s only fitting a cat would teach us physics more directly — by coauthoring a highly cited, influential physics paper.
Of course, the name Chester wouldn’t look convincing as a scientific paper coauthor. So, he invented “F.D.C. Willard.” The initials stand for Felis Domesticus Chester . The last name, Willard, was the name of Chester’s father. The professor didn’t feel too guilty for trying to deceive the publisher: “Why would I do such an irreverent thing? … If it eventually proved to be correct, people would remember the paper more if the anomalous authorship were known. In any case, I went ahead and did it and have generally not been sorry.” The journal loved the paper, but the ruse stayed secret among his close colleagues until a visitor arrived to meet the authors. When Hetherington told them the truth, they laughed, and not long after that, the feline coauthor became quite famous. F.D.C. Willard not only saved Hetherington from rewriting the entire paper, but also continues to inspire cat-related academia antics. On April 1, 2014, the American Physical Society (APS) announced all cat-authored papers would be made freely available. “Not since Schrödinger has there been an opportunity like this for cats in physics,” they wrote. We couldn’t agree more.
In 1975, Jack H. Hetherington was a professor of physics at Michigan State University, and he completed a paper on
atomic behavior. However, he had a problem: As a sole author, Hetherington had used “we” throughout the paper. A colleague pointed out that publishers reserved that language for papers with multiple authors.
With today’s software, this would be a minor inconvenience. But to fix his error in 1975, Hetherington would have to retype the entire paper manually on his typewriter. Time was short, and Hetherington had done all the work himself. According to Hetherington’s 1982 book, “More Random Walks in Science,” he explained, “After an evening’s thought, I simply asked the secretary to change the title page to include the name of the family cat.” And that’s what happened; the professor named his Siamese cat, Chester, as his coauthor.
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