My colleagues (and now coauthors) Anna Krylov, a quantum chemist, and her partner Jay Tanzman, a freelance statistician, have collaborated on a cat-imbued article at the Heterodox STEM site. The intro says that the piece was inspired by the ailurophilia of this site, so I am proud.
Anna and Jay discuss the several ways they have brought cats into published discussions of chemistry, especially in the illustrations. There is of course Schrödinger’s cat, but I’ll give a few other examples from their paper below (click screenshot to read):
From the intro: a recursion!
I [Anna] love chemistry and cats. They seem to inhabit the same part of my brain—I like to think about cats when I do chemistry, and I like to think about chemistry when I cuddle with my cats. Sometimes cats dominate over chemistry—for example, when I choose to read Jerry Coyne’s weekly Caturday Felid Trifecta  instead of doing chemistry. But, overall, my cats make my chemistry better, and that is the main point of this essay. The idea for it came from two of Jerry’s blog [ahem!] posts: Cats Who Owned Famous Scientists and Ten Cats in Literature . So I thought, how about Chemistry with Cats? Indeed, what is the best way to explain complicated and abstract concepts? Of course by using cats! In what follows, we will present a few examples from Anna’s research, in which she used cats to illustrate key concepts. We will conclude with a few words about the real cats in our life and remarks on an important issue of naming a cat.
But, first, we need to acknowledge that we stand on the shoulders of giants, and that cats have been used by scientists to explain important concepts on many occasions. It could, in fact, become a subject of a review article. But today we will mention just one example, the most well-known cat in the history of science communication: Schrödinger’s cat.
All captions are taken from the HxSTEM post:
Cats and the Many-body problem:
The many-body problem refers to a system of multiple (more than two) interacting particles, for example, a molecule with more than two electrons. Solving the Schrödinger equation for such a collection of interacting nuclei and electrons is hard, and the entire field of quantum chemistry is dedicated to it. Above, is the cover image for a feature article  illustrating the complexity of the many-body problem, the challenges in solving it numerically for realistic systems, various means to tackle it, and the potential of machine learning (ML) and artificial (AI) intelligence to help solve these challenges.
Although the cat on the cover is just a free-loader, cats did some serious work in the paper . Below, is a figure from the paper explaining the concept of coarse-graining complexity. The original figure caption reads: “Detailed information about a many-body system, such as a complete description of a cat, with all its hairs and whiskers, can be compressed into a compact form describing a subset of physical properties of the system—an effective cat theory that describes important cat behaviors and informs us when to feed the cat, when to take it to the vet, or how to play with it. This mapping can be done either exactly or approximately. The coarse-grained, effective representation of a cat can be used as a starting point for including more fine-grained descriptions of the system (with more nuanced cat behaviors) or for building up the complexity, all the way up to a multiple cat theory and one for dynamically interacting cats.”
The cover (can you spot the cat?)
A figure from the paper:
Cats and chirality
This cover illustrates the concept of chirality in chemistry, highlighting new theoretical tools developed by Anna’s lab and her collaborators (Sonia Coriani’s group in Denmark) to probe it .
Cats and quantum information science:
Below, is a cover for a special issue on quantum computing and quantum information science published by the journal Physical Chemistry–Chemical Physics, for which I [Anna] am an editor. It is an accompaniment to the editorial that introduces the topic and summarizes the contributions to the issue: Krylov, Doyle, and Ni, Quantum computing and quantum information storage: An introduction.
They add this:
There is even a popular Russian science magazine called Schrödinger’s Cat (Кот Шрёдингера). Here is the cover of its first issue:
And Anna and Jay’s two cats (there are many photos and tales of their former cats):
Geddi in his sexy-pose. “Geddi” is short for the German word abgedeckt. We gave him that name when we first started learning German because we thought that abgedeckt meant “masked,” which aptly describes the coloring of Geddi’s face. As we continued our German lessons, however, we learned that that was completely wrong. Oh, well.
Here’s Mishka, a purebred British shorthair.
And this is Mishka looking like a distinguished professor awaiting the call from Stockholm. “Mishka” is a diminutive form of the Russian name Mikhail. It is also a diminutive of the Russian word medved (медведь), meaning “bear.”
Here’s a cat that puts herself into a tiny, custom-made cat bed. She even has her own teddy-equivalent: a toy Rudolph the red-nosed Reindeer:
When the humans go to bed Sophie follows and goes right up to her bed to get tucked in. IG @sophielovestuna
Mr. Kitters carries a camera around his neck, and so you get cat podcasts like this one (his Instagram site, with more videos, is here). The one below is especially good: he goes under a porch, encounters another cat, and tries to climb a tree. Notice his whiskers in the frame!
Sound up to hear the meows.
Here he chases another cat:
. . . and here’s a video of Mr. Kitters with his camera:
h/t: Anna, Barry
8 thoughts on “Caturday felid trifecta: Chemistry with cats; cat puts itself to sleep in miniature bed; Mr. Kitters, cat photographer”
Oooo could the title today be
Iron Lithium Darmstadtium
I had to look up Darmstadtium: https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Darmstadtium
… for the chemistry.
Now I get it — “FeLiDs”! I should find a way to use it in my GenChem class somehow.
Many animal behaviorists claim that cats do not meow or otherwise vocalize when outside. The videos of Mr. Kitters should put that fallacy to rest once and for all. Several of my now strictly inside former semi-feral cats have also vocalized when they were still outside, as I was “taming” them.
Yes, that surprised me, too. I thought cats only meowed at humans. Maybe they learn to do that from living with humans and then apply it to other cats.
Mishka seems to be considering how the lighting affects his fur’s appearance. “Well, there might be a little frost on the roof, but there’s still plenty of fire in the furnace. Hey, maybe that’s how we got a senior discount at the pet store the other day!”
My colleagues (and now coauthors)
Ooh, is that a hint about the new manuscript? Anyway, another fascinating Caturday felid trifecta – thanks!
I’m wondering a little bit about this Anna – in the JCTC cover, the cat is loaded with (from Wikipedia):
Propylene oxide is both acutely toxic and carcinogenic. Acute exposure causes respiratory tract irritation, eventually leading to death .Signs of toxicity after acute exposure include salivation, lacrimation, nasal discharge, gasping, lethargy and hypoactivity, weakness, and incoordination. Propylene oxide is also neurotoxic in rats, and presumably in humans
Propyelene oxide alkylates DNA As such, it is known animal carcinogen and a potential human carcinogen, and is included into the List of IARC Group 2B carcinogens.
I admit I was not aware of chemical properties of propylene oxide, even through we have published 2 papers on it! It is a favorite molecule for theoreticians because it is small, so it is perfect for benchmarking the methodology. We have used it for benchmarking of our methods in the paper with the cat cover. In another paper, we studied it in the context of astrochemistry — related to the origin of chirality on Earth: https://iopscience.iop.org/article/10.3847/1538-4357/aac383/meta
Our experimental collaborators had to deal with real stuff, but on the computer it is perfectly safe to handle.