The Snake And The Ring [Science Tattoo]

By Carl Zimmer | October 11, 2009 11:23 pm


Jeff, a pharmacy student in Richmond writes,

One thing about Richmond is that most everyone in the city has a tattoo. After living here for 3 years I finally gave into peer pressure and got a tattoo. The only thing I could think of getting that I wouldn’t regret later in life was something nerdy/chemistry related, organic chemistry to be specific. While searching for inspiration I stumbled upon this story about the German chemist August Kekule who is responsible for discovering the ring structure of benzene.

Kekule claims that he stopped writing and dozed off to sleep. He saw atoms whirling and dancing before his eyes. The atoms then began to reassemble themselves into long rows that seemed to move about in a snake-like motion. As he watched the snake dance, the vision progressed until the snake formed itself into an image he had seen years before at a 1850 murder trial: the snake devouring its own tail.

So there it is…a benzene ring with an Ouroborus around it…

Click here to go to the full Science Tattoo Emporium.

CATEGORIZED UNDER: Science Tattoo Emporium

Comments (5)

  1. This tattoo is the best yet – excellent choice! I remember hearing the story of Kekule in high school, I think it’s amazing the things our mind comes up with when we’re not paying attention. I think Edison used a similar method when he was inventing the lightbulb, he used to sit in a chair holding heavy balls for as long as he could until he started to doze off and dropped them. The sound of the balls dropping would trigger a dream-like state that helped him solve problems.

  2. ceruleas

    I love this! I’m a sophomore biochem major currently in my first semester of organic. When I first encountered the benzene ring, it almost immediately became one of my favorite structures, mainly for its symmetry and simplicity.

  3. patrick

    Dude, I had the same idea for my first tattoo! A benzene ring surrounded by a snake eating its own tail… Dang, now I would feel weird and unoriginal if I got it… =[

  4. Candace

    I have been cunstructing the same tattoo idea from the same story. Actually our chemistry teacher told us that Kekule was hallucinating on acid or shrooms and was sitting before a fire, visualizing the oroborus in the flames. Just thought you’d get a kick out of that. =)


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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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