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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Relat­ed Con­tent:

The Short­est-Known Paper Pub­lished in a Seri­ous Math Jour­nal: Two Suc­cinct Sen­tences 

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

Insane­ly Cute Cat Com­mer­cials from Stu­dio Ghi­b­li, Hayao Miyazaki’s Leg­endary Ani­ma­tion Shop

Nick Cave Nar­rates an Ani­mat­ed Film about the Cat Piano, the Twist­ed 18th Cen­tu­ry Musi­cal Instru­ment Designed to Treat Men­tal Ill­ness

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Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.