When a Cat Co-Authored a Paper in a Leading Physics Journal (1975)

Back in 1975, Jack H. Hetherington, a physics professor at Michigan State University, wrote a research paper on low–temperature physics for the respected scientific journal Physical Review Letters. Before sending it off, Hetherington asked a colleague to review the paper, just to make sure it covered the right bases. What happened next Hetherington explained in the 1982 book, More Random Walks in Science:

Before I submitted [the article], I asked a colleague to read it over and he said, 'It’s a fine paper, but they’ll send it right back.' He explained that that is because of the Editor's rule that the word "we" should not be used in a paper with only a single author. Changing the paper to the impersonal seemed too difficult now, and it was all written and typed; therefore, after an evening’s thought, I simply asked the secretary to change the title page to include the name of the family cat, a Siamese called Chester, sired one summer by Willard (one of the few unfixed male Siamese cats in Aspen, Colorado). I added the initials F D in front of the name to stand for Felix Domesticus and thus created F D C Willard.

The editors eventually accepted the paper, "Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3 He." And the ruse lasted until, remembers Hetherington, “a visitor [came to the university and] asked to talk to me, and since I was unavailable asked to talk with Willard. Everyone laughed and soon the cat was out of the bag.” (Pun surely intended.) Apparently only the journal editors didn't find humor in the joke.

Above, you can see F.D.C. Willard's signature (a paw print) on the front page of the article. The website, TodayIFoundOut, has much more on this enchanting little story.

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An Animated Introduction to the Life & Work of Marie Curie, the First Female Nobel Laureate

Looking for an introduction or reintroduction to the life and work of scientist Marie Curie?

You could have a peek at her original manuscripts, after first signing a waiver and garbing yourself in protective gear, so as to avoid the radioactivity permeating her possessions...

Or you could turn to song. Army of Lovers, the Crypts!, and the Deedle Deedle Dees have all written songs in celebration of this brilliant woman, the first female Nobel Laureate and only person in history to have been awarded Nobel prizes in two different sciences.

(Her lead-lined coffin, forbidden studies, and romance with fellow physicist and husband Pierre are the stuff from which golden lyrics are spun…)




Or you could watch the TED-Ed animation above, written and narrated by Dr. Shohini Ghose, Physics Professor and Director of Wilfrid Laurier University’s Centre for Women in Science.

Ghose counterbalances the tantalizing biographical tidbits of the world’s most famous female scientist with her actual contributions to the fields of oncology, technology, medicine, and nuclear physics.

Ghose’s full TED-Ed lesson includes a review quiz and further resources.

To get an even more in-depth introduction to the Curies, listen to the episode of In Our Time, below.

And do remember to put down the sparklers and potato salad for a moment in silent recognition that this July 4th marks the 83rd anniversary of Mme. Curie’s death from aplastic anemia, the result of prolonged exposure to radiation.

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Follow her @AyunHalliday.

How to Build Leonardo da Vinci’s Ingenious Self-Supporting Bridge: Renaissance Innovations You Can Still Enjoy Today

Leonardo da Vinci, the most accomplished example of the polymathic, artist-engineer "Renaissance man," came up with an astonishing number of inventions great and small in the late 15th and early 16th century, from the helicopter to the musical viola organista, the tank to the automated bobbin winder. Even the devices he was born too late to invent, he improved: humans had crossed the humble bridge, for instance, for countless centuries, but then Leonardo created a new, self-supporting variety whose design, as followed by a kid and his dad in the video above, still impresses today.

"With a series of wooden poles and beams, 'Stick-Boy' shows his Dad how to build Leonardo da Vinci‘s self-supporting arch bridge, also known as the emergency bridge," say the description by Rion Nakaya at The Kid Should See This. "No nails, screws, rope, glues, notches, or other fasteners are holding the bridge in place… just friction and gravity."




Clearly it works, but how? According to a post at the blog ArchiScriptor on self-supporting structures, all such bridges, from Leonardo's on down, really do rely on only those two forces. "Notches in the members make it easier to construct, but strictly speaking aren’t necessary as long as there is some friction. Gravity will do the rest."

Leonardo, the post continues, "explored two forms of the structure – a bridge and a dome. His work was commissioned by the Borgia family, with the mandate to design light and strong structures which could be built and taken down quickly. This was to aid them in their constant struggle for power with the Medici family in Renaissance Italy." The site of the Leonardo3 Museum adds, "we do not know whether this bridge was ever put to practical use, but it is not hard to believe that such a modular construction, extremely easy to transport and to assemble, must have met with great favor from the Renaissance lords who were always on the lookout for new technologies to put to military use."

Leonardo himself called this "the bridge of safety," and it counts as only one of the ingenious bridges he designed in his lifetime. For the Duke Sforza he also invented several others including a revolving bridge which, according to Leonardo da Vinci Inventions, "could be quickly packed up and transported for use by armies on the move to pass over bodies of water," could "swing across a stream or moat and set down on the other side so that soldiers could pass with little trouble," and "incorporated a rope-and-pulley system for both quick employment and easy transport." All useful tools indeed for those who once sought military dominance in Italy, but even more beneficial as inspiration for the Renaissance boys and girls of the 21st century.

via The Kid Should See This

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Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. He’s at work on the book The Stateless City: a Walk through 21st-Century Los Angeles, the video series The City in Cinema, the crowdfunded journalism project Where Is the City of the Future?, and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ Korea Blog. Follow him on Twitter at @colinmarshall or on Facebook.

The Pioneering Physics TV Show, The Mechanical Universe, Is Now on YouTube: 52 Complete Episodes from Caltech

In December, Caltech announced that the critically acclaimed TV series, The Mechanical Universe… And Beyond, has been made available in its entirety on YouTube. Created at Caltech and aired on PBS from 1985-86, the 52-episode series offers an introduction to college-level physics, covering everything from the scientific revolution begun by Copernicus, to quantum theory. A university web page offers more details on the production:

The series was based on the Physics 1a and 1b courses developed by David Goodstein, the Frank J. Gilloon Distinguished Teaching and Service Professor and Professor of Physics and Applied Physics, Emeritus.

Each episode opens and closes with Goodstein lecturing to his freshman physics class in 201 E. Bridge, providing philosophical, historical, and often humorous insight into the day's topic. The show also contains hundreds of computer animation segments, created by JPL computer graphics engineer James F. Blinn, as the primary tool of instruction. Dynamic location footage and historical re-creations are also used to stress the fact that science is a human endeavor...

Although the series was designed as a college-level course, "thousands of high school teachers across the US came to depend on it for instructional and inspirational use," Goodstein says. "The level of instruction in the US was, and remains, abysmally low, and these 52 programs filled a great void."

You can stream all 52 episodes above. Or find them on Youtube and DailyMotion. They will also be added to our collection of Free Online Physics Courses, a subset of our collection, 1,250 Free Online Courses from Top Universities.

Visit this Caltech website to get more information on the show.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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The Famous Schrodinger’s Cat Thought Experiment Gets Brought to Life in an Off-Kilter Animation

Schrödinger's Cat is one of the more famous thought experiments in modern physics, created by Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger back in 1935.  The Telegraph summarizes the gist of the experiment as follows:

In the hypothetical experiment ... a cat is placed in a sealed box along with a radioactive sample, a Geiger counter and a bottle of poison.

If the Geiger counter detects that the radioactive material has decayed, it will trigger the smashing of the bottle of poison and the cat will be killed.

The experiment was designed to illustrate the flaws of the ‘Copenhagen interpretation’ of quantum mechanics, which states that a particle exists in all states at once until observed.

If the Copenhagen interpretation suggests the radioactive material can have simultaneously decayed and not decayed in the sealed environment, then it follows the cat too is both alive and dead until the box is opened.

The University of Nottingham's Sixty Symbols YouTube channel provides a more complete explanation. But with or without any further introduction, you can watch the off-kilter animation, above, which imagines the origins of the original experiment. It was created by Chavdar Yordanov for an animation show in London.

Follow Open Culture on Facebook and Twitter and share intelligent media with your friends. Or better yet, sign up for our daily email and get a daily dose of Open Culture in your inbox. 

If you'd like to support Open Culture and our mission, please consider making a donation to our site. It's hard to rely 100% on ads, and your contributions will help us provide the best free cultural and educational materials.

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For Sale: The Building Blocks of Albert Einstein’s Creative Mind

Calling all parents with a hedge fund--or big trust fund. If you really love your kids (wink), you can let them play with the building blocks that once belonged to young Albert Einstein. According to Einstein's own sister, Albert used these blocks to build “complicated structures” during his childhood in Germany, sowing the seeds of his creativity. Now, after having been recently auctioned off by Einstein’s descendants, they're being sold online for $160,000--plus $3 shipping within the US). AbeBooks, the online vendor of rare books and ephemera--has a blog post with more information on this collectible.

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Watch 100 Randomly Ticking Metronomes Achieve Synchronicity

It’s always satisfying to impose order on chaos, especially if it doesn’t involve bellowing at a roomful of jacked up teenagers.

Witness the experiment above.

Members of Ikeguchi Laboratory, a Japanese organization dedicated to the analysis and prediction of nonlinear phenomena, placed 100 randomly ticking metronomes on a hanging platform, curious as to how long it would take them to synchronize.




(SPOILER ALERT! They start synching up around the 1 minute, 20 second mark.)

How? Why? Is this some mystical, musical variant of menstrual synchrony?

Nope. Physics is doing the heavy lifting here.

The key is that the platform holding the metronomes is not fixed. It affects their movement by moving in response to theirs.

To put it another way, KE = 0.5 • m • v2. Which is to say Kinetic Energy = 0.5 • mass of object • (speed of object)2.

If you're looking for another scientific explanation, here's how Gizmodo puts it: "the metronomes are transferring energy to the platform they’re on, which then transfers that energy back to the metronomes—until they all sync up and start hitting the beat in one glorious wavelength."

By the two and a half minute mark, some viewers will be raring to delve into further study of energy transference.

Others, their brains imploding, may elect to downshift into a purely auditory experience.

Close your eyes and listen as the last hold outs fall into rhythmic step with the rest of the herd. A pleasantly harmonious sound, not unlike that moment when a roomful of jacked up teens simmers down, achieving the sort of blissful hive mind that’s a balm to teacher’s frazzled soul.

Craving more?  Ikeguchi Laboratory also filmed their metronomes in triangular, circular and X-shaped formations, available for your viewing pleasure on the lab’s YouTube channel.

via The Kid Should See This

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Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Her play Zamboni Godot is opening in New York City in March 2017. Follow her @AyunHalliday

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