F.D.C. Willard

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F.D.C. Willard (1975–1980) was the pen name of a Siamese cat named Chester, who internationally published under this name on low temperature physics in scientific journals, once as a co-author and another time as the sole author.

Background[edit]

The American physicist and mathematician Jack H. Hetherington, Michigan State University, in 1975 wanted to publish some of his research results in the field of low–temperature physics in the scientific journal Physical Review Letters. A colleague, to whom he had given his paper for review, pointed out that Hetherington had used the first person plural in his text, and that the journal would reject this form on submissions with a sole author. Rather than take the time to retype the article to use the singular form, or to bring in a co-author, Hetherington decided to invent one.[1]

Publications[edit]

F. D. C. Willard's Signature

Hetherington had a Siamese cat named Chester, who had been sired by a Siamese named Willard. Fearing that colleagues might recognize his pet's name, he thought it better to use the pet's initial. Aware that most Americans had at least two given names, he invented two more given names based on the species name for a house cat, Felis domesticus, and abbreviated them accordingly: F.D.C. His article entitled "Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc ³He", written by J.H. Hetherington and F.D.C. Willard, was accepted by the Physical Review, published in number 35 (November 1975).[2][3]

At the 15th International Conference on Low Temperature Physics in 1978 in Grenoble, Hetherington’s co–author was exposed: Hetherington had signed copies of his article, had included the "signature" (paw prints) of his co-author, and had sent them to friends and colleagues.[4] Later, another essay appeared, now solely authored by F.D.C. Willard, entitled "L'hélium 3 solide. Un antiferromagnétique nucléaire", published (in French) in September 1980 in the French popular science magazine La Recherche.[5][3] Subsequently, Willard disappeared as an author from the professional world.

Reception[edit]

The unmasking of Hetherington's co-author on the Physical Review essay, which was frequently referenced,[6] caused the co-authorship to become world-famous. The story goes that when inquiries were made to Hetherington’s office at Michigan State University, and Hetherington was absent, the callers would ask to speak to the co-author instead.[7] F.D.C. Willard appeared henceforth repeatedly in footnotes, where he was thanked for "useful contributions to the discussion" or oral communications,[1] and even offered a position as a professor.[8] F.D.C. Willard is sometimes included in lists of "Famous Cats" or "Historical Cats". As an April Fool's joke, in 2014 the American Physical Society announced that cat-authored papers, including the Hetherington/Willard paper, would henceforth be open-access (papers of the APS usually require subscription or membership for web access).[9]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ a b Heinrich Zankl (2008), "Einsteins preußischer Schatten und Hetheringtons Kater [Einstein's Prussian shadow and Hetherington's cat]" (PDF), in Von Dunkelbirnen und Leuchtkaninchen, Erlebnis Wissenschaft (in German), Weinheim: WILEY-VCH Verlag GmbH & Co., pp. 14–15, ISBN 978-3-527-32114-8 
  2. ^ J. H. Hetherington and F. D. C. Willard (1975), "Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc ³He", Physical Review Letters, 35: 1442–1444 
  3. ^ a b Grundhauser, Eric. In 1975, a Cat Co-Authored a Physics Paper (Atlas Obscura; 30 August 2016)
  4. ^ R.L. Weber (1 January 1982). More Random Walks in Science. CRC Press. pp. 110–111. ISBN 978-0-85498-040-6. 
  5. ^ F. D. C. Willard (1980), "L’hélium 3 solide. Un antiferromagnétique nucléaire", La Recherche, 114 
  6. ^ Beispiel, Journal of the Physical Society of Japan 
  7. ^ Academia Obscura, Academic Animals 
  8. ^ Woodruff Letter (from MSU Dean Truman O. Woodruff to Professor Jack Hetherington, dated 26 November 1975)
  9. ^ APS Announces New Open Access Initiative 

Further reading[edit]