[Special thanks to materials scientist Joe Spalenka for letting us use his photoshopped image of Watson And Crick Plus Chloe The Cat.]
In 2001, Operation CopyCat at Texas A&M University produced CC, the world’s first cloned pet. “CC” stands for “Carbon Copy”. National Geographic described how the process worked: >The cat was cloned by transplanting DNA from Rainbow, a female three-colored (tortoiseshell or calico) cat into an egg cell whose nucleus had been removed, and then implanting this embryo into Allie, the surrogate mother. Although CC is genetically identical to Rainbow, the two cats look nothing alike. That’s because a cat’s coat color is modified by epigenetic changes—meaning changes in the packaging around the kitten’s DNA—that happen in the womb. CC was still alive as of 2011, and she even gave birth to a few (perfectly normal) kittens.
Snuggled in the arms of astronomer Edwin Hubble (yes, that Hubble), Nicolas Copernicus the cat was named after the Renaissance astronomer who dared assert that the Earth revolved around the Sun. The Huntington Library in San Marino, California, found a letter written by Hubble’s wife that insinuates that Nicolas may have helped Hubble uncover the secrets of the expanding universe: >“When [Edwin] worked in the study at his big desk, Nicolas solemnly sprawled over as many pages as he could cover. ‘He is helping me,’ E explained.
Wireless Telegraph Cat
Legend has it that Albert Einstein once used a cat to explain how wireless telegraphs worked: >You see, wire telegraph is a kind of a very, very long cat. You pull his tail in New York and his head is meowing in Los Angeles. Do you understand this? And radio operates exactly the same way: you send signals here, they receive them there. The only difference is that there is no cat. However, we couldn’t confirm the origins of this quote.
Forget high-tech spy gadgets. In the 1960s, the CIA launched Operation Acoustic Kitty. The plan was to train cats—yes, cats—to eavesdrop on Russian conversations. With a microphone implanted in its ear, a transmitter near its collar, and an antenna in its tail, the first feline agent was deployed and promptly run over by a taxi. ☹ A partially redacted memo from 1967 concludes “the program would not lend itself in a practical sense to our highly specialized needs.”
Back in 2010, Oscar (pictured) became the first kitty to get prosthetic legs attached directly to his anklebones. The technology—called intraosseous transcutaneous amputation prosthetics, or ITAP—mimics the porousness of deer antlers to fuse flesh and metal together in a tight seal that keeps out dirt and bacteria. ITAP has since been tested in humans, who say the implanted prosthetic legs are much more comfortable than the detachable kind.
When scientists created this genetically modified glow-cat in 2011, they gave the cat a gene that may make it resistant to feline AIDS. The fluorescent green color comes from a different gene that the scientists added, indicating whether the important gene got implanted into the cat’s genome. Last we heard, the scientists intended to expose these genetically modified cats to Feline Immunodeficiency Virus. If the incandescent cats are indeed resistant, it could open up new HIV prevention strategies for humans.
“Mrs. Chippy,” pictured, was actually a tomcat. He came along for the ride when Ernest Shackleton set sail for Antarctica on the Endurance. Mrs. Chippy was apparently well-loved by everyone onboard (except the sled dogs), and helped to keep rodent infestations at bay. But sadly, when the ship got stuck in ice, Shackleton and his crew had to abandon ship as well as any extra weight—and that included the cat. Mrs. Chippy was given a last meal before he was put down, but his memory lives on in his life-sized bronze sculpture that’s perched on top of his owner’s grave.
Do cats always land on their feet? In 1947, the U.S. government needed to find out the truth. So the Aerospace Medical Division brought two cats up in a C-131 on a parabolic flight, where they would experience a few seconds of weightlessness. It was not a fun day for these poor kittehs. Watch the video here. Spoiler: Cats DO NOT always land on their feet.
Not long after Thomas Edison’s team invented the Kinetograph (an early video camera) in 1892, the first cat video was born. Watch two feline fighters duke it out here.
In 1963, Félicette became the first cat in space. Apparently she was a sweet-tempered street cat from Paris, until the French government started putting her and 13 other kitties through training that included compression chambers and centrifuges. On October 18, Félicette was launched into space inside a special capsule on a French Veronique AG1 rocket, while an electrode array implanted in her brain recorded her neural activity. After riding 100 miles up, the capsule detached from the rocket and parachuted back down to Earth. Félicette survived the descent but was euthanized a few months later so scientists could examine the brain implant. Still, Félicette’s 15 minutes of fame got her face onto postage stamps around the world.
When he was growing up in Croatia, Nikola Tesla’s best friend was Macak, “the finest of all cats in the world.” In a letter published by PBS, Tesla writes about how the cat basically inspired his life’s work. >In the dusk of the evening, as I stroked Macak’s back, I saw a miracle that made me speechless with amazement. Macak’s back was a sheet of light and my hand produced a shower of sparks loud enough to be heard all over the house…. My mother seemed charmed. “Stop playing with this cat,” she said. “He might start a fire.” But I was thinking abstractedly. Is nature a gigantic cat? If so, who strokes its back? … I cannot exaggerate the effect of this marvelous night on my childish imagination. Day after day I have asked myself “what is electricity?” Perhaps without Macak, Tesla would have never invented the alternating current electricity that’s supplying power to your computer or device right now.
No “Cats of Science” collection would be complete without Schrödinger’s cat. In trying to communicate how quantum mechanics works, Erwin Schrödinger put things into terms that everyone (and yet no one) can understand: Cats. The thought experiment typically goes something like this: Some jerk puts a cat into a sealed box with a bottle of poison and a radioactive substance. If a single atom of the substance decays, the bottle shatters and the cat dies. Because the observer has no way of knowing whether the cat has been poisoned, the animal can be thought to be both alive and dead. Note: Maru (pictured) is not the real Schrödinger cat.