Matt writes, “I took an alternate path to understanding the world from most of your readers. I switched from psychology to history in order to better research what really happened as opposed to what kids are taught in school. A concept that stuck with me and in fact is a critical reference point for me in every day life is our tendency to seek patterns and to see things that aren’t there. As a tribute to the fallibility of our complex brains my first tattoo is a visualization of the Gestalt Law of Closure.”
Susan, a graduate student, writes,
I got my tattoo in 2008 after raising enough money by carrying around a jar marked “tattoo fund” as I bar hopped for my 21st birthday. The tattoo is of a Permian cephalopod from the Guadalupe Mountains of Texas, Cooperoceras texanum.
I have loved paleontology for as long as I can remember. When I was looking at colleges, I came across a program called “Earth, Life, and Time” at the University of Maryland. It was a 2 year program as a part of an honors living and learning program called College Park Scholars. ELT was run by two amazing paleontologists, Dr. Tom Holtz and Dr. John Merck. The program was what convinced me to go to UMD and without these two great professors, I might not even be alive today. They are not only wonderful human beings, but also some of the greatest teachers at the university. Of all the classes with a natural history or evolutionary focus offered at the university, the classes they taught were truly of the highest caliber. To honor them, I got the mascot of the Earth, Life, and Time program, Cooperoceras texanum, tattooed on my leg. Unfortunately, the program is no longer offered at the university, due to shifting research goals in the the Geology Department, but Dr. Merck and Dr. Holtz now run a new program called “Science and Global Change”. ELT remains in the hearts and minds of the decade worth of students who came through it’s classroom.
Between scrambling to finish some big projects and avoiding summer brain-fry, I haven’t been doing much science blogging recently. And now I’ll be taking a few days away from blogging altogether. It’s not a blackout at the Loom, though; just a brown-out. I’m going to schedule some old posts I’m fond of, as well as a backlog of science tattoos. Later this month I’ll be rested, refreshed, and ready to blog anew.
Caitlin, a graduate student, writes:
About four years ago, a close friend from college got her first tattoo – something meaningful and marking a particular point in her life – and she asked me if I would ever get one. I said sure, but that at that point in my life there was nothing I could come up with that was meaningful enough to have permanently etched in my skin. That was my first year of graduate school and I was still very unsure of myself and my future.
Four years of graduate school later finds me in the final stages of earning a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology – a place I was not convinced I was cut out to reach at the start of graduate school. After 2009’s year of Darwin celebrations, including my own involvement organizing a conference celebrating 150 years of evolutionary biology, the perfect tattoo came to me in class one day in March, and I found myself at the tattoo parlor by the end of that week.
My tattoo is Darwin’s very first phylogeny, from his Notebook B on Transmutation of Species and it is on my right shoulder. These notebooks contained much of his brainstorming on evolution after returning from the Beagle, and I was able to see this one in person at the American Museum of Natural History’s Darwin exhibit in 2006. I also added his signature and the date which can be found on the inside cover of the notebook.
I chose this particular piece of Darwinia for several reasons. As a perpetual student of science and of nature in particular, I love the slight hesitation and perhaps excitement in the “I think.” I am amazed that Darwin was thinking about phylogenies in 1837, 22 years before the Origin was published – that you can see the seed of his great work (and the preface to the only figure in the Origin) so early in his writings. The phylogeny itself as an image is meaningful because I study speciation, and spend a great deal of time studying, thinking about, and building my own phylogenies. I had also selected it to be part of the cover of the program for the conference I was involved in, and many attendees asked me about it. In short – it carries a lot of meaning to me.
So, my tattoo honors Darwin, the father of my field; it represents my own personal research; and it exemplifies the slight hesitation and excitement of scientific discovery that I hope will stay with me always as I launch my academic career. It is a mark of confidence, in myself, and my chosen profession. I have no doubt that I will never regret permanently etching this image on my skin, and I know that it will serve as a reminder to me that even though the pursuit of scientific knowledge is a long, sometimes daunting journey, I love what I do and I can’t imagine doing anything else.
Luke writes, “I’m about to start postgrad studies in biochemistry but currently work in a bacteriology diagnostics lab. Working with the nasty side of E. coli all day long makes it easy to forget how important the little guy is to science – I definitely have a soft spot for it now though! I was recently in Amsterdam and wanted to get a tattoo done while I was there. I happened to be reading your book Microcosm at the time and decided to get an E. coli tattoo on my foot. I only found the Science Tattoo Emporium today and was quite surprised to discover that it’s curated by the same person who inspired the tattoo!”
Ariel writes, “I am happy to see that other science dorks like myself have inked up our passions. This is the molecular representation of glutamic acid, the amino acid associated with the Umami flavor, the proverbial fifth taste. I am a former chef turned public health major and fell in love with the elegance of chemical compounds but never forgot my unctuous roots.
Mandy writes, “I am actually a microbiologist, but my side interest is the trilobite. I went in thinking I’d just get a small black outline of a trilobite, and the tattoo artist was so excited that I wanted a trilobite, and insisted on designing something more complicated for me. So attached is a photo of my right foot. It’s like a pet trilobite that follows me everywhere.”
Nick writes, “A tattoo of Vespa crabro. I got it while I was working in the entomology department of Va Tech. I was the most hardcore nerd there.”
David writes, “My tattoos each mark–although in rather oblique and coded ways–life events, or at least transitions that are important to me (several are a rebus for my 1999 dissertation in post-structuralist political philosophy). This 10th tattoo, of Hemoglobin A, perhaps requires less decoding than many. Over the last couple years, I have had the opportunity to work with some amazing people, on the computer science side of things, who have built the world’s fastest supercomputer–called Anton, after so-called ‘father of microbiology’ Antonie van Leeuwenhoek–which is highly specialized for computing molecular dynamics. As a gesture to this opportunity, I commemorate it with a molecular rendering (of the PDB chemical 2W6V, using VMD and the NewCartoon rendering style) of the sort that the chemist who do the actual MD often look at. Of course, Hemoglobin is a well-known molecule to laypersons, and it is one that is easy enough to give a metaphorical or mimetic sense to; the molecule is inscribed above my heart, whose function is largely to pump around oxygen-carrying Hemoglobin (hence giving my body life, vitality, energy, etc).”