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A 1975 Physics Paper Was Co-Authored by a Siamese Cat

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It’s been proven that owning a cat has real scientific benefits, but it turns out, they’ve also been a benefit to science. Over 40 years ago, a Midwestern feline co-authored a physics paper.

As Atlas Obscura reports, in 1975, Michigan State University professor Jack H. Hetherington had just completed an academic study called Two-, Three-, and Four-Atom Exchange Effects in bcc 3He, which focused on atomic behavior at high and low temperatures. He was ready to submit the writing when a colleague noted a bit of a problem: Hetherington had used the plural pronoun "we" throughout, though he was the only author. That might seem like a minor infraction, but the intended publication, Physical Review Letters, would likely not approve.

Hetherington wasn't too keen to rewrite his work, which had been drawn up on a typewriter, and tacking on another human author was problematic for a number of reasons. So the professor did the only logical thing and employed the identity of his Siamese cat, Chester. The name "F.D.C. Willard" was added (the first name stood for "Felix Domesticus, Chester" and "Willard" was the name of the cat’s father).

The article was successfully published in Physical Review Letters, but the charade didn’t last for long. However, there wasn’t much fallout for the scientist or his feline faux-author. In fact, Hetherington capitalized on it—releasing copies of the paper with autographs in the form of a signature and a pawprint. In 1980, Willard published a paper on his own, written entirely in French. (A real Renaissance man, this cat.)

MSU’s Physics Chairman, Truman Woodruff, even asked Hetherington if Willard would be interested in a full-time staff position, writing: "Can you imagine the universal jubilation if in fact Willard could be persuaded to join us, even if only as a Visiting Distinguished Professor?"

[h/t Atlas Obscura]

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Big Questions
Why Do Cats Freak Out After Pooping?
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Cats often exhibit some very peculiar behavior, from getting into deadly combat situations with their own tail to pouncing on unsuspecting humans. Among their most curious habits: running from their litter box like a greyhound after moving their bowels. Are they running from their own fecal matter? Has waste elimination prompted a sense of euphoria?

Experts—if anyone is said to qualify as an expert in post-poop moods—aren’t exactly sure, but they’ve presented a number of entertaining theories. From a biological standpoint, some animal behaviorists suspect that a cat bolting after a deposit might stem from fears that a predator could track them based on the smell of their waste. But researchers are quick to note that they haven’t observed cats run from their BMs in the wild.

Biology also has a little bit to do with another theory, which postulates that cats used to getting their rear ends licked by their mother after defecating as kittens are showing off their independence by sprinting away, their butts having taken on self-cleaning properties in adulthood.

Not convinced? You might find another idea more plausible: Both humans and cats have a vagus nerve running from their brain stem. In both species, the nerve can be stimulated by defecation, leading to a pleasurable sensation and what some have labeled “poo-phoria,” or post-poop elation. In running, the cat may simply be working off excess energy brought on by stimulation of the nerve.

Less interesting is the notion that notoriously hygienic cats may simply want to shake off excess litter or fecal matter by running a 100-meter dash, or that a digestive problem has led to some discomfort they’re attempting to flee from. The fact is, so little research has been done in the field of pooping cat mania that there’s no universally accepted answer. Like so much of what makes cats tick, a definitive motivation will have to remain a mystery.

Have you got a Big Question you'd like us to answer? If so, let us know by emailing us at bigquestions@mentalfloss.com.

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Animals
Listen to the Impossibly Adorable Sounds of a Baby Sloth
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Sometimes baby sloths seem almost too adorable to be real. But the little muppet-faced treasures don't just look cute—turns out they sound cute, too. We know what you're thinking: How could you have gone your whole life without knowing what these precious creatures sound like? Well, fear not: Just in time for International Sloth Day (today), we have some footage of how the tiny mammals express themselves—and it's a lot of squeaking. (Or maybe that's you squealing?)

The sloths featured in the heart-obliterating video below come from the Sloth Sanctuary of Costa Rica. The institution rescues orphaned sloths, rehabilitates them, and gets them ready to be released back into the wild.

[h/t The Kid Should See This]

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