There’s been a lot of media attention lately about the cat who co-authored a prestigious physics paper (and was later published as the sole contributor in a French physics journal.)
Curious about his take on the situation, we tracked down his current incarnation in Akron, Ohio.
Now in his seventh life, the illustrious physicist Felis Domesticus Chester (F.D.C.) Willard has graciously granted us an interview to discuss his published works, his theories, and why he turned down the prestigious position of Physics Professor at Michigan State University.
The lovely and accomplished F.D. Tuesday has volunteered to serve as an interpreter.
Tuesday: F.D.C., were you surprised when your companion human, Jack Hetherington, listed you as co-author of the prestigious paper, “Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3He”?
F.D.C. Willard: Pleased, but not surprised. He didn’t have much of a choice. My dear Jack was an honest man, and he couldn’t claim that paper was based on his own discoveries, not without bending the truth until it snapped.
Tuesday: So Hetherington didn’t discover the atom exchange effects on his own?
F.D.C. Willard: Not at all. Helium’s behavior at low temperatures is quite complex; it’s a fascinating subject. Jack was interested in my theories about the behavior of solid Helium 3, but I had to explain it to him on his level, to break it down in a way he could understand. Once he grasped the concept, he was up and running, but my contribution was significant. He agonized over it, of course, knowing how we cats prefer our contributions to the field of physics to remain anonymous.
Tuesday: What finally made up his mind?
F.D.C. Willard: Without realizing it, he’d typed the entire paper in first person plural. When his proofreader pointed that out, he thought about changing it, but decided to do the right thing and give credit where it was due. To protect my privacy, he created a formal name for me, using my scientific classifications as given names and my father’s name as my surname.
Tuesday: When the paper was published in Physical Review Letters, it was a big hit, and people all over the world tried to contact you. How did you handle that?
F.D.C. Willard: At first, I kept a low profile. I never answered their letters or phone calls. Eventually I did sign some papers for our friends, and then, as they say, the cat was out of the bag.
Tuesday: Your friend Hetherington received a rather unusual request; would you like to tell us about that?
F.D.C. Willard: Certainly. The Physics Department Chair at M.S.U. sent a charming letter to Jack in November of ’75, in which he conveyed his deep appreciation of my abilities and a humble request that I consider working for their institution, even if only as a Visiting Professor. Of course I was flattered by Truman O. Woodruff’s offer, but I had to turn him down.
Tuesday: Why was that?
F.D.C. Willard: I couldn’t bear to show Jack up in front of his colleagues. Our families had been best of friends since my father’s time. There was also my position as Head Supervisor in the ancestral abode to consider; it wouldn’t be fair for me to give a professorship anything less than my full attention.
Tuesday: Hetherington typed up a paper for a French physics journal as well, which listed you as the sole author. How did you feel about that?
F.D.C. Willard: For cats, dabbling in academia isn’t a publish-or-perish situation, but Hetherington felt I’d appreciate having my own work out there under my own name. It was kind, but unnecessary; we physics-obsessed cats don’t need praise, physical rewards or publishing credits to motivate us to search for knowledge. The thrill of the chase is enough!
Tuesday: So what’s in store for your future? Are you planning to reveal any additional discoveries?
F.D.C. Willard: No, this is my seventh life; it’s time to settle down. I’m focusing on the three “f”s this go-around: Family, fun, and food. Helium will still be there if I get the urge to study it again.
Tuesday: Thank you for your time, F.D.C. If anyone in our audience would like to read F.D.C. Willard’s famous paper, I’m delighted to say that the American Physical Society agreed in 2014 to make all cat-authored papers open-access on their website. Enjoy!