Alex writes, “Twenty years ago I got this tattoo of the empty set. I’ve always thought it to be an interesting conundrum, as full of possibility as it is of nothingness.”

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Robert writes:

Hi Carl,

I like your blog. It inspired me in some way to do the tattoo that I’ve been thinking of for several years

Here’s an explanation:

I have several reasons for choosing a sigma. The simple reason is that I think sigma is really beautiful, especially when using this LaTeX font The tattoo also represents my love of mathematics in general, and of the beauty of abstract patterns in particular.

I’m studying the fourth year on the clinical psychologist programme and didn’t want to forget my roots. Mathematics and computer science has shaped my thinking a lot, in a way that’s very functional for me these days. I’m very proud of being a mathematician among the psychologists, or maybe a psychologist among the mathematicians, and I wanted to show this. That’s why I made the tattoo.

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MLR writes: “The Tree of Life—carbon, glucose, light, DNA, and the golden rectangle. A tattoo by Kevin Riley. On the chest of a PhD student in molecular biology.”

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Angela writes:

I got this tattoo about a year ago after finishing what turned out to be the magnum opus of my career (so far). Sadly, I am not a scientist, unless one considers sociology and economics to be true sciences, and then only marginally. I’m a grant writer and nonprofit director, and I work to interrupt the patterns of violent human behavior in sub-Saharan Africa.

This is a tattoo of Salvador Dali’s “The Swallow’s Tail,” the last painting Senor Dali completed before his death. Salvador had a rough couple of years, and through his depression he stumbled upon Rene Thom’s catastrophe theory, which inspired him to paint again. This particular painting is a representation of the swallowtail catastrophe (V = x5 + ax3 + bx2 + cx). In four dimensional phenomena, there are seven possible equilibrium surfaces and therefore seven possible discontinuities, and Thom called these the “elemental catastrophes.” In bifurcation theory, these are used to predict and model sudden shifts in behavior that result from small changes in circumstances. For a non-scientist, this is about as close to a complete explanation of my job and life as I may ever find. Salvador planned to do a series of all the possible catastrophes, and started with this one.

Sadly, he died right after he finished it. I’m not typically prone to drawing far-fetched parallels or finding metaphors where none exist, but still, this fact reminds me that my work will never, ever be done.

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Courtney writes:

So, φ, the golden ratio (an honest to goodness irrational number that’s equal to 1.618…) appears all over the place and is considered to be the particular ratio associated with beauty. It comes up in discussions about architecture, the spiral on seashells, and the path a hawk in flight takes as it swoops to catch its prey (the vegan in me doesn’t like to contemplate that last one).

It’s often written as (1+ squareroot(5))/2, but that’s not the only way it can be written. Mathematically, it’s algebraic, which means it can be written as a continued fraction:

1+1/(1+1/(1+1/(…)))

So in my tattoo, if you start reading at one of the “1+1” parts, you actually read it as “one plus one over one plus one over one plus one over…” — exactly the infinite fraction!

There’s some cool stuff about the golden ratio on wikipedia

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio (starts off with general information)

en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Golden_ratio#Alternate_forms (writing it mathematically)

My tattoo was done by Jack of Art with a Pulse in Colorado Springs, CO.

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Milad writes:

“I am a Mechanical Engineering undergrad at UC Berkeley and I got this tattoo about a month ago. It’s the golden ratio in the shape of a rectangle, with the ratio of the sides of the rectangle actually being the golden ratio! I have been obsessed with this number since I heard about it in high school, and it is the reason why I became so fascinated with mathematics. The golden ratio is known to be the closest mathematical explanation of beauty. It has been used a lot in architecture, art, and music around the world, and has some amazing mathematical and geometrical properties.” Carl: Like DNA and atoms, the golden ratio is a favorite at the emporium. See these geometrical version.

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Mark writes:

“This tattoo is the Zermelo-Fraenkel with Choice axioms of set theory. These nine axioms are the basis for ZFC set theory, which is the most commonly studied form of set theory and the most well known set of axioms as well. From these nine axioms, one can derive all of mathematics. These provide the foundation of mathematics, a field that you can likely tell that I love dearly.”

Carl: Mark is making an encore appearance at the Emporium. See his Y combinator here…

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“My name is Sharon and I’m an undergraduate math student at Arcadia University. A while ago, I decided that I wanted a tattoo that showed my love for mathematical formulas and equations. I got the quadratic formula on the back of my neck. The quadratic formula has been my favorite equation ever since I learned to sing it to the tune of “pop! goes the weasel.” My tattoo is also useful for anyone who happens to sit behind me on an exam!”

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Greg writes:

“I’m currently a Ph.D. student studying maths in Australia (submitting next week). The the tattoo on the top, I got about three years ago in Berkeley, CA. The other tattoo I got about a year later in Sydney, Australia. Both these tattoos are closely related to the research I’ve done for my Ph.D., which is in the area of elliptic partial differential equations. The top equation is called the Monge-Ampere equation and is the archetype of the equations I currently study. The bottom equation is called the ‘Infinity Laplacian’ and was chosen because it is correlated to variational theories which I find to be beautiful. Loosely speaking these equations are correlated to how surfaces (in arbitrary dimension) bend and curve. I figured since I did half my Ph.D. in the US and half in Australia, I would get at least one tattoo in each of those countries. The tattoos are meant to represent a memory of the time I spent in my studies.”

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