Great scientists and the pets that 'grounded' them

Many of history's greatest scientific minds found companionship in their pets. Some were even inspired by them.

Perimeter Institute compiles a brief history of famous physicists and their animal companions

(Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

"I cannot exaggerate the effect of this marvelous night on my childish imagination," wrote Nikola Tesla in a 1939 letter to the eight-year-old daughter of a Yugoslavian diplomat he had befriended weeks before. 

"Day after day I have asked myself 'What is electricity?"

The renowned physicist, engineer and inventor was writing about his childhood cat, Macak. One day he was petting him and was struck by static sparks. It was this seemingly unremarkable event that began Tesla's lifelong fascination with electricity.

He was just one of the great scientists who had "an interesting and profound connection to their animal," says Colin Hunter, director of communications and media at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics in Waterloo, Ont.

(Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

On Friday the institute released the most recent installment of its Slice of PI series, a monthly feature intended to connect people with the "often imposing, inaccessible" realm of theoretical physics. 

"Of course one thing many of us can relate to is a love of animals," he told CBC News. "It also shows that inspiration can come from anywhere."

Whether it's Isaac Newton's supposed doggy door, Einstein's cat Tiger or Tyco Brahe's pet elk who died in a drunken fall, history is full of fascinating tales about scientists and their four-legged companions. 

(Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

Hunter, who went through biographies and photographic records to compile the piece, points to the celebrated astronomer Edwin Hubble as an example of a genius who was "grounded, brought back to earth" by his pet.

"There are lots of photos of Edwin Hubble where he looks very serious, with a pipe in his mouth. The very few where he's smiling and seems to be very contented, his cat Nicolas Copernicus is there with him," he says. 

(Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics)

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