Scientists' tattoos: The formula for skin ink

Scientists’ tattoos: The formula for skin ink

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Scientists' tattoos: The formula for skin ink

Carl Zimmer, a noted American science writer and lecturer at Yale University, found himself at a pool party a few years back attended almost exclusively by scientists. Instead of promptly fleeing, he fell into conversation with one after noticing something he hadn’t expected to see: a tattoo on the man’s forearm.

“It was of DNA,” Zimmer explains, “and to me this was interesting because it showed me a side to scientists I didn’t necessarily know about.”

His interest duly piqued, Zimmer took a photograph of it and posted it onto his blog, then asked his blog’s many readers if there were any other scientists out there also concealing skin ink related to their profession. There came a deluge, scientists from all over the world only too happy to share their hitherto largely hidden passions. “It’s as if they couldn’t wait to reveal their secret,” he laughs. There were the neuroscientists with neurons intricately recreated onto their biceps, the biologists with molecules, fish, even remote Hawaiian archipelagos etched across their torsos, and the palaeontologists whose legs had become canvasses for dinosaurs. Zimmer has collected some of the finest examples in a book, Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed, which does everything a good coffee table-cum-toilet book should, crammed as it is full of fascinating photographs that capture the artistry of each alongside helpful text explaining why, for example, Australian biologist Bryan Grieg Fry took his study of venomous sea snakes so seriously that he now has one immortalised on his back alongside the molecular symbol for adrenaline. “Required in abundance,” Zimmer notes, “for his line of research.”

Elsewhere, one Drew Lucas, a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Cape Town, where he studies the flow of the ocean, has a scientific formula inked into his left leg. “It’s the incompressible form of the conservation of mass equation fluid, also known as the continuity equation,” he helpfully explains. “When people ask what it means, I say it defines […]