Tats for Science

Carl Zimmer is collecting examples of scientists with tattoos having a science theme. Got a tattoo? Send him a picture!

There is a weird comment about reluctance to show off these things if you don’t have tenure yet … I really don’t think skin art is one of the considerations in tenure decisions, though. At least it’s never come up in any of the reviews I’ve been involved in, although perhaps photos of artfully inked buttocks would enliven those often deadly dull tenure files.


  1. notthedroids says

    I have a very simple sun symbol on my shoulder. It concisely refutes the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics argument against evolution and, by extension, all of intelligent design creationism.

  2. thelogos says

    I imagine that the reluctance to show off a tattoo comes from the desire to be seen as serious, and the idea that having a tattoo is something for the young and not-serious.

  3. Christian Burnham says

    I have Abramowitz and Stegun’s handbook of mathematical functions encoded into the freckles on my right arm.

  4. Alex Whiteside says

    I was considering getting a benzene molecule tattoo at one point, but my career has gone elsewhere and I’ve had enough pain from the Breit Hamiltonian as it is.

  5. says

    perhaps photos of artfully inked buttocks would enliven those often deadly dull tenure files

    and in a pinch, you could even drop the “artfully inked” requirement.

  6. Mena says

    Fractals probably wouldn’t make good tattoos but maybe a temporary one would be ok. I’m probably going to use that one for a trapunto quilt top, a bit less painful that way!
    By the way, off topic, but why the @#$% do people always confuse paleontology and archaeology? It was funny on Voyager but it really does make people sound dumb. Granted this is the AP so dumb probably is the case. I remember one story about how Egyptian tombs needing to have holes for the soul of the diseased to go to the afterlife. They also have linked to sites belonging to the wrong Congresscritter in their stories. Liberal MSM my ass, they are just simply incompetent and take their stories from the even less competent. ;^)

  7. Carlie says

    Mena – yes. I’m a paleontologist, and both my grandmother and my grandmother-in-law send me newspaper clippings every time there’s a discovery of cave art or some ancient town or whatnot. That is at least a bit closer than my grandfather was, who thought it must have something to do with bighorn sheep in Montana.

  8. Kseniya says

    You mean a paleontologist isn’t just an ontologist who doesn’t get a lot of sun?

    Wow. I guess I need to get out more myself!

  9. John C. Randolph says

    Let’s face it: tats are tacky. Whether it’s the traditional sailor’s anchor, or a 20 year-old girl’s “tramp stamp”, the purpose of a tat is to show that the wearer is capable of a lapse of judgement.


  10. Rachel says

    My ex-physicist boyfriend has the Schroedinger equation on his arm. It’s quite endearing. But then I’m a sucker for nerd art.

  11. says

    the purpose of a tat is to show that the wearer is capable of a lapse of judgement

    Yep… two so far, and counting.

    Still waiting for the inevitable pangs of regret, but all I’m coming up with is the desire for more time spent at the end of a buzzing needle.

    (I was thinking about adding a sack-toting burglar silhouette to the inside of my ankle to go with the @ symbol already on the outside. “At-heist,” get it?)

  12. Jim A. says

    I did see a girl once with box from the periodic table for Selenium (Se, it’s atomic 3 and we in a box) on her shoulder. ‘Course I just assumed that she was probably a physical chemist. But this was at the roller derby, so who knows…

  13. says

    Still waiting for the inevitable pangs of regret, but all I’m coming up with is the desire for more time spent at the end of a buzzing needle.

    Ah, those endorphins do make the most unlikely things seem worth it, don’t they.

    My hypothesis is that, along with oxytocin, they’re the only reason humans ever go through labor a second time.

  14. kmarissa says

    Still waiting for the inevitable pangs of regret

    Waiting right there with you, RedMolly. That is, if I can stop getting the damned thing embellished for long enough to regret it…

  15. SEF says

    Tats for Science

    In some places “tats” are potatoes. Perhaps if anyone has (Mr) Potato Heads of Einstein, Darwin etc (or even natural look-alikes as per the That’s Life TV programme) those could be allowed a side mention. Or even potato waffles in the shape of molecules or whatever.

  16. says

    Some geek girl needs to get TACT written out in DNA on her breast, then ATGA molecules on the other, so when she presses them together they show the connections between the base pairs… then marry me because that’d be so hot.

    Newton’s laws in original Latin would also make a great tat.

  17. says

    but all I’m coming up with is the desire for more time spent at the end of a buzzing needle.

    yup. for some people (myself included), once you break the seal, it seems silly to not get more and more.

    my wife and i seem to be making a tradition of getting new ones for our wedding anniversary – #3 coming up next month.

  18. says

    As someone whose upper left quadrant is pretty much covered, I can offer the opinion that real tattoo freaks don’t call them “tats”. I got my first one when I was Chair of my department, and my feeling was that if they didn’t like it, they could find a replacement right then, in the middle of the year.

  19. The Morning Starr says

    This is the worst blog I’ve ever seen. You nerds should all be ashamed of yourselves.

  20. The Morning Starr says

    Just kidding! I love this blog for the fact that these exchanges occur! This was one of the best ideas I’ve seen in a long while. Keep up the good work!

  21. says

    Mena, we paleo folks ask that ALL THE TIME. There is no answer.

    (And those of us who don’t study dinosaurs are extra irritable, since we get the dinosaur assumption the rest of the time.)

  22. Chakolate says

    I think it’s not at all out of the realm of possibility that a tattooed candidate might be seen as less interesting, tenure-wise. In one (math) departmental tenure meeting, one professor argued against a female candidate because ‘she smiles too much’.

    It may not be stated, it may not even be consciously thought, but we form opinions based on many things, and physical appearance plays a large part in our mostly subconscious evaluation of others.

  23. says

    This is super neat — thanks for the link! — but I do feel a little unoriginal now. I’ve been planning to get a DNA tattoo for some time (expensive project, since I want it to go all the way up my arm, down my back, and down my leg), and now I feel like I’ve been scooped.

    No science ones at the moment, though. My current tattoos are either literary or historical: a labyrinth on my sternum (yes, I got it before the stupid fucking New Age craze for labyrinths!), and a Jabberwock on my arm.

    And RedMolly, the only things that keep me from going back to the buzzing needle every month are (a) money and (b) my rule that I have to have a specific tattoo idea for at least a year before actually getting it.

  24. bernarda says

    Not science tattoos, but here are some pictures of a friend of mine who has a few and perhaps gives an inspiration to those who want to add a few science tattoos.


    Click on “Qui est-il?” and scroll. Site in French, but the pictures speak for themselves.

  25. says

    oh, you should absolutely hide tattoos until you know your department, if you are interviewing or going for tenure.
    A LOT of people still have very negative perceptions about them, *especially* for women.

    I think it sucks–I have ink myself–but I speak from experience, having been both a candidate and on search committees. Same for visible face jewelry.

  26. Ben says

    I’m an engineer, not a scientist…
    But in the spirit of the discussion, I have an M.C. Escher sketch of an “impossible box” on my left shoulder, and am getting a simplified version of the swans mobius strip (to make it more ink-friendly) on my right shoulder.
    I have several inked & tenured friends, however, it must be commented that the tattoo’s are safely coverable by regular business clothing.

  27. Trav. says

    I am no scientist, mathmagician or smart person hehe but to me tattoos are very simply an expression of one’s self or an extension of what we wish to be. For this, I believe we cannot and should not be judged or discriminated against. I happen to be getting more ink to add to my collection today. I am glad that in my day to day life I am embraced for my individuallity.
    I hope you all enjoy your tattoos and dont let anyone talk you out of them. The design is not all that integral to me. Some say that it is stupid to get a tattoo without much thought, but thats what my ink says about me. I am the kinda person that will go and take a risk and live with the consequences.
    Enjoy ya ink!