The Imaginary Vortex [Science Tattoo]

By Carl Zimmer | July 24, 2009 11:36 pm

seife-tattoo.jpgMargot, a zoo veterinary technician writes, “In reading Carl Charles Seife’s fabulous book Zero, he presents a graph of complex numbers which plot a changing exponent for the basic formula (X+iY)n in which X represents real numbers and Y represents imaginary numbers. If Y=1, the result is a circle. Y<1 creates a spiral inside the circle and Y>1 creates a spiral outside the circle. The logarithmic spiral is a very natural and fractal form, and being in the biology field and a fractal freak, I was captivated by this figure. Then the philosopher in me started seeing all the symbolism one could glean from this and it was all over. The other side of the story is that after 3 years of cortisone shots, physical therapy, surgery, more therapy and acupuncture to treat tendonitis in my right elbow, my arm is finally back to “as good as it’s going to get”. Unfortunately, my lifestyle as a zoo veterinary technician, musician, and mother all conspire to cause re-injury unless I am extremely careful. This tattoo is a colorful and metaphorical reminder to be mindful yet still live my life to the fullest extent possible.”

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Comments (5)

  1. lucky7

    The condition is not on Y. It should if X^2+Y^2=1 then a circle results. If X^2+Y^2 1 than spiral outward.

  2. in which X represents real numbers and Y represents imaginary numbers
    *ahem* They represent the real and imaginary parts of the number. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to work out what would happen if Y was an imaginary number.

    Sorry. but you know someone would have pointed this out: I’m just saving all those other mathematical pedants from (rightful) opprobrium.

  3. S Johnson

    Give her a break, fellas. She is a musician, and you know that musicians have their own reality. Seriously, Margot, that’s a cool tat.

  4. Margot

    Hey Bob and Lucky7. I realized after I scribbled out my explanation that it wasn’t right but by then, it was too late. Thank you for the correction. Formulae were always the trickiest part of science for me. I do understand the overall concepts; it’s translating them to numbers and variables that causes the inner vortex to spiral into nothingness… That’s why I’m a musician and a biologist. My dad is the physicist in the family.

  5. Harold

    As a fellow musician and tendinitis sufferer, I gotta tell ya, tats can heal tendinitis, just like a cortisone shot would… IF you get it in the right place, it stimulates an influx of inflammatory cytokines, as would an injection of anything (look up work on glucose injections and/or pro-inflammatory substances). Fixed my ferocious tennis elbow and looks good too!


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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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