Cat Authors Physics Paper. Becomes Instant Science Celeb
Now THAT's one smart cat.
Britanie Leclair

When you read a science journal, you probably never bother to ask if a cat is an author. Sure, this may seem like a ridiculous concern, but don’t laugh too soon! One cat made scientific history when he did just that— and was listed as co-authoring an influential 1975 physics experiment paper alongside his owner, Jack Hetherington.

In 1975, Jack Hetherington, a physics professor at the University of Michigan, was writing a paper about an influential experiment he had just conducted. When he had finished the paper, he asked a friend to go over it for him. That’s when he noticed he had made a big mistake.

Although Hetherington was the only author of the paper, he had written the entire thing using third-person pronouns like “we”. The journal he intended to submit the paper to was very strict about guidelines, and he knew it would be rejected if he didn’t fix something soon.

Michigan State University
Michigan State University

In modern times, this would be an easy fix— but in typewriter days, this meant the entire paper would have to be retyped. Not wanting to redo the whole thing over again, Hetherington had a sudden idea.

“After an evening’s thought, I simply asked the secretary to change the title page to include the name of the family cat,” Hetherington revealed in the book More Random Walks in Science.

Yup, instead of rewriting the entire article, the professor decided to add his beloved cat Chester as the author (shown below).

Academia Obscura/Twitter
Academia Obscura/Twitter

Most of Hetherington’s friends were familiar with his cat Chester, so he decided to give him a pseudonym. He was named F.D.C. Willard. The initials stood for Felis Domesticus Chester, and Willard was the name of Chester’s father.

Hetherington’s paper was ultimately published in the Journal of Physical Review Letters. F.D.C. Willard’s identity remained a secret until people arrived at the university asking to speak to him.

Even upon its discovery, though, not many people were too concerned by the kitty’s contributions to science. In fact, Hetherington even revealed, “The chairman… was able to inflate some statistics requested by the administration by including Willard among the published authors from the Physics department.”

When the authors were asked to autograph their work, Hetherington left a cursive signature, while F.D.C. Willard left a striking paw print instead.


According to Live Science, F.D.C.’s paper on the low-temperature physics of helium-3 isotopes has been cited more than 50 times to date. Unfortunately, on April 1st, 2014, the American Physical Society declared it would no longer be taking papers co-authored by cats.

Learn more about F.D.C. Willard’s historic contributon to science below!

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