Tattoos are great. Science tattoos are better. Here is a sample of science tattoos that I find just wonderful from the Science Tattoo Emporium at the Discover Magazine blog page, check out the rest of them here. Below each photo is an explanation of what the tattoo means to each person. I’ve seen many tattoo collections online, but this is the first time I’ve read the tattooed individuals personal interpretation of their tattoo’s meaning.
A grad student who asked to remain anonymous writes, “The tree seems to be a potent symbol of life in human (at least Western) culture, and what better way to augment this symbol by putting the code for life (DNA) at its base? I got this tattoo to commemorate the beginning of my PhD in immunology.”
An immunologist who requests anonymity writes: Nearly every faculty member I meet seems to become instantly curious about my tattoo (attached). I have had it for almost 2 years now. My wife was simply shocked when I returned home after the first sitting. Yes, it took n=3 sittings of ~6 hours each.
Personally, it represents a collection of ideas, experiences, and memories that I chose to mark myself with. I wanted to make a difference with my scientific training as a viral immunologist, so I left my “ivory tower” postdoc position to do translational research at USAMRIID. I’ve spent countless hours working with Ebola, SARS, and other nasty pathogens trying to find vaccines and therapeutics to fight them with. For me personally, it was like opening Pandora’s box. It is brutal, dangerous, and dirty work. I still work with SARS and avian influenza and have NIH/DoD grants to fund the projects. For better or worse, high containment work is my “talent”.
The theme of my tattoo is based upon Greek mythology (Epimetheus/Pandora). When I finally came to embrace the path I took in science, the myth seemed to correlate with my life. Once I took the step forward and opened that “box”, there was no turning back. All of the “plagues” became my scientific passion. The caduceus represents the one last thing to escape from the “box”. I am dedicated to finding ways to combat these pathogens. While slightly irrational, I also viewed the pain and blood as a penance for the animals that must be used to study disease pathogenesis and the efficacy of vaccines and therapeutics I develop with my collaborators. Perhaps I’m a little out there, but I’m trying to make a difference. I’ve marked part of my path in a permanent way!
Vincent, “a fledgling mathematician,” writes:
This tattoo is of a microscope. 90% of the time when I show it to people they say ‘Oh! a telescope!’ I generally don’t correct them, I just get a little uncomfortable and put my shirt back on. Most of the images are copies of SEMs, the background figures include, a fish parasite, anthrax, a scoop of iced cream that has fallen off the cone, flea eggs, bone marrow, and a virus attacking a sun dried tomato! yum!
Jeremiah Drewel, a geology student at the University of Alaska writes, “This is my personal favorite Deinonychus!”
MLR writes: “The Tree of Life–carbon, glucose, light, DNA, and the golden rectangle. A tattoo by Kevin Riley. On the chest of a PhD student in molecular biology.”
“Here is a pic of my tattoo based on the golden spiral and a nautilus shell. i’ve wanted to get this done since high school and finally got up the courage to take the plunge earlier this year. it is now a constant reminder that mathematics is the language of nature.”–Thom
Ben, a philosopher of science grad student, writes: “Darwin sketched the great tree of life and as a philosopher of science and I endeavor to help to complete his project. ‘Metaphysics must flourish, he who understands baboon would do more for metaphysics than Locke’- I believe that by analyzing the universe underneath the lens of evolution we can come to complete Darwin’s project. Darwin, more so than any other great thinker, has provided humanity with an explanation for its existence.
Repaired heart: “I am a nurse and here is my tattoo.”
Zach writes: “It is a half sleeve up my upper right arm based around an image taken by one of the CERN bubble chambers. It is based on this image. I first saw that image my freshman year of college. It had the sublime, simple beauty that only something made of math and science can have. It stuck with me for 8 more years before I actually decided to get it etched into me. Oddly enough, on Valentine’s Day. I guess it was my Valentine’s to physics and science. Oh, and when people ask who drew it, I always respond ‘God.'”