Sigmas From Shoulder to Shoulder [Science Tattoos]

By Carl Zimmer | May 23, 2009 11:20 pm


Joe writes, “My tattoo is 3 lines of equations, the top is the Born Oppenheimer Approximation, the second line is the equation in the form of a 3-Dimensional Schroedinger Equation, and the solution in the form of a Schroedinger Equation.  As a biochemist and molecular biophysicist I studied a lot of this stuff and I must say, Schroedinger was my favorite and well, I had to do it.  The ink was done at Red Sky Studios in Tucson, AZ by artist Lisa.”

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Comments (111)

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  1. It’s an intriguing way of sneaking cheat notes into a proctored exam anyway. So long as nobody asks why he has to take off his shirt during bathroom breaks, he’s fine.

  2. BJM

    Physicists dream of the day when a Theory of Everything can be reduced to tattoo that will fit on one bicep.

  3. TCo

    That is a sweet tattoo.. it’s almost boring seeing people with tigers and dragons, and while those are also cool I like seeing these.. more.. unconventional tattoos more.

  4. jo

    I have seen a “a to the mole power” before.

  5. John

    It would be funny if there was a mistake…

  6. If the ToE ever 1) is written, 2) is proven, 3) is small enough to fit on a human’s Back

    I’ll have my first back tattoo.

  7. Rich

    BJM, is that on a regular person’s bicep or a physicist’s bicep?

  8. can you imagine this guy on the beach … every1 would be staring and talking about him … hehe …
    awesome …

  9. crazy charlie
  10. Someone

    Do humanity a favor and make sure you get mummified when you pass away. People 10,000 years from now may look at your back and marvel at what had been accomplished.

  11. Lacombe

    A simple barcode on the base of the neck would have been sufficent.

  12. deb

    i like it

  13. BA

    WHAT?? did he lose a bet or something…because thats stupid!

  14. The problem of cheating with this is that you will be helping the student behind you lol

  15. Frank Cardenas

    So what is the answer?

  16. I think there is a sign error in the second equation, in the denominator of the second term.

  17. C Choi

    Sry, but thats too Nerdy, even for a geek.
    Not too sure what his gf is going to say about this

  18. CC

    I too see a mistake, but it should be easy to correct…

  19. Those look great..but man that’s a lot of skin estate.

  20. Joe

    Well I am glad some of you find it interesting or cool or whatever. Either way it usually gets people talking. I got it because I like the equations and it’s in my area of work. About any mistakes, there were none on the proof but its possible that something got miffed or whatever. Honestly I am not worried about it, and likewise haven’t bothered to stare at it long enough in the mirror!

  21. Joe

    I just thought of this, but should a mistake be there it could work in my favor. The first girl to find it is the girl I was meant to be with, assuming I want to be with any girl who could find a mistake in those equations, hah.

  22. UAProf

    Is the font Computer Modern?

  23. Phyz Ed

    Obviously he’s a man without a brane. I sport a much cooler – and more comprehensive – full-body tattoo of string theory. Unfortunately to see the full thing you have to be able to see in 11 dimensions. All that shows up in our 4 dimensions is a tattoo of chinese symbols that my Chinese friend says questions my “orientation”. I can’t believe how lucky I was to find the tattoo guy that was an expert in string theory AND was willing to give me an 11-dimensional tattoo for only $20.

  24. John Davis

    LOL, what a nerd. I can see Angelina Jolie with something like that! LOL


  25. mauiz

    “Obviously he’s a man without a brane.”


  26. S Johnson

    He could have saved himself a lot of ink if he had used the Einstein convention. But then there would not be those cool zig zag thingies. :)

  27. There’s a mistake in this equation… 😉

  28. ayu

    nice tattoo, i luv it

  29. LordNecros

    There IS no sign in the second denominator of the 3 Dimensional Schrodinger Equation

  30. David

    I am a fellow biochemist and I totally understand the passion this guy has for Schroedinger (I call him “so danger” ;)). I once put down the derivation of complex current (i) as in my tag line for msn and people thought it was cool.

    I still have to get something like that to get a tattoo!

  31. Larry Lepton

    Cheating at an exam? Really. Anyone that needs to remember the Schrödinger equation will remember it without cheating. That’s part of its spell :)

  32. I see an error.

  33. Tasteful Geek

    What a dummass.

    If he had a modicum of taste, shouldn’t it have been the one very short equation that represents a fundamentatal building block of his fave theorem?

  34. tom_mandory

    anyone who has ever had a tattoo knows this is fake.

  35. Truth teller

    This man has never or will never be within 5 feet of a woman unless it’s his mom.

  36. Hank

    Frucken nerd!

  37. Gk

    Would’ve been scientifically more precise if the text read “virgin”

  38. Miguel

    your one cool dude!

  39. I love this…classic.

  40. Dong

    What a freak.

  41. titanxv

    Does that equal nerd or geek?

  42. JJ

    There is a minus sign missing in the denominator of the second term of the second equation

  43. Mike

    …without a brane… wtf

  44. Forgot to carry the 1 about halfway into that second line, dude

  45. middy

    I’m afraid the solution should be delta cubed not delta squared…

  46. piipaa

    Ok, it is different. But for a math phobic like me, this man would be a real turn off. I would have night mares about impossible mathematical equations all night long. =O

  47. S Johnson

    Tom_Mandory, it does look a bit too good to be true. In ten years, it won’t be readable anyway, just a blur. I am so glad I passed up equations for my science tattoos.

  48. mandy

    My friend has a nice belt sander that will take that right off!

  49. Angel H

    You guys who keep calling this guy a virgin and saying no woman will every be within 5 feet of him are jealous of his higher intellect. I happen to be a woman and I find this tattoo incredibly sexy. Intelligent women like intelligent men! We will NEVER be with any man whose IQ is lower than ours. This guy is the shit!

  50. Couldn’t you have just encompassed it all in a tattoo of “42”?

  51. MP

    “Crap, I needed the cheat sheet on the front!”

  52. Captain Biffle

    Touche Fascist Nation, 42 would have been shorter to right then all that, but i think he should get the question to the answer 42 :)

  53. I agree with Angel H and Joe. If Joe’s SO can’t appreciate it, then they shouldn’t be there long. And if they can spot the error, that just proves that not only are they date-able, but a definite keeper.

  54. Brane


    In theoretical physics, a membrane, brane, or p-brane is a spatially extended mathematical concept that appears in string theory and its relatives (M-theory and brane cosmology) that exists in a static number of dimensions. The variable p refers to the number of spatial dimensions of the brane. That is, a 0-brane is a zero-dimensional pointlike particle, a 1-brane is a string, a 2-brane is a “membrane”, etc. Every p-brane sweeps out a (p+1)-dimensional world volume as it propagates through spacetime.


    P.S. Go read The Fabric of the Cosmos or any of the books written by Brian Greene

  55. melly

    Yea, I’m completely lost. But the point of a tat is to express YOURSELF, not look cool for other people (a point lost on most of my generation, sadly) – the more offbeat the better. This guy is awesome :)

  56. C

    Nice Joe, I got a form of the Schroedinger Equation as an arm band. I’m not native american, I haven’t been to jail, I’m not Irish etc. so all the ‘traditional’ arm bands were not meant for me. But as a Ph.D. Chemist I wanted to express my brand of dorkishness. I met the equation in school and always kept it on paper in a draw, I eventually had in inked in 2003 at the age of 33. I have a deliberate mistake, I did drop the bar in h/bar as it looked ugly to me, but didn’t add the Pi below as it crowded the letters.

    Nice job.

    P.S. Never met anyone who didn’t think it was cool.

  57. Hannah

    I’m a physics major, as long as you don’t get too flabby or tan too much and turn your tattoo into something nasty and deformed looking, I don’t think it’s weird or unattractive or anything. I saw someone in the SPS Lounge here once with at least one of their arms completely covered in tattoos of physics equations.

  58. cesar

    this guy should post the LaTeX code for his new ink….

  59. Irwin S. Punymeyer

    Nnnnnnnneeeeerrrrrrrrrd :D!

  60. D Ross

    When the find this guy’s mummy some 5-thousand years hence, the laughter will be uproarious. Much the same as the Flat World Society today. Silly and sad.

  61. dumbgeek

    that tat says ‘virgin’

  62. H

    Angel is absolutely correct. Those who believe women will be deterred by this type of tattoo have no idea what they’re talking about. I’m a female Mensa member, and let’s just say this tattoo will be more effective in its silence than a lifetime of pickup lines. I love tattoos, and this is the best I’ve seen. I’d say Joe has just ensured he’ll find exactly the kind of woman he wants.

  63. Cargojack

    This is much better than the people who think those nonsense words they had tattooed in Kanji or Hebrew letters are real words.

    I have seen tattoos that were just nonsense syllables in Hebrew/Aramaic letters. I did not have the heart to tell the person she had gibberish on her neck.

  64. Sophia

    I agree with Cargojack. I don’t know how many times I see people with Chinese or Japanese on themselves and have no idea what it actually means. There was this guy showing off his “Chinese birth symbol.” The character read as “Sheng” – which doesn’t represent the powerful Ox he was going for. It means “birth” or “birthday.” :S Oops.

    I also love it when I see tattoo shops offering characters that are either upside-down or backwards haha. People don’t stand a chance if they’ve never studied the languages.

    I’m proud the guy actually knew exactly what he was putting on his body.



  66. MikeinFXBG

    Excellent tattoo; partial credit: It would be an ‘outstanding’ check your math.
    Second equation, third term, the denominator is cubed, not squared. Like it.

  67. Me

    DUDEEEEE!!!! U are crazy!!!!!
    Hard Core mehn! If anyone is doubting your intellect just rip your shirt off and show em ( Make sure u aint got a flabby belly!!!)

  68. sanskrit tattoo

    Nice tattoo but way too geeky for me!

  69. Man that is one uber geeky tattoo have fun explaining that to any chics you meet lol.

  70. Hah, thats pretty cool, can’t say I would go for something like it, but cool never the less.

  71. They are so funny ,but pretty cool…

  72. Brandon

    Thank god someone said something about brane.. that was buggin me no one got it. Very very cool tat though. All the people who have something negative to say don’t know that there’s only one real person who needs to like the tattoo.. the person getting it. Everyone else can suck it.

  73. Amok

    The first line is a full molecular hamiltonian, no BO approximation there.

  74. Jack kilian

    The 2nd line appears to be missing a subtraction sign after the third summation in the denominator


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The Loom

A blog about life, past and future. Written by DISCOVER contributing editor and columnist Carl Zimmer.

About Carl Zimmer

Carl Zimmer writes about science regularly for The New York Times and magazines such as DISCOVER, which also hosts his blog, The LoomHe is the author of 12 books, the most recent of which is Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.


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