Let Me Just Roll Up My Sleeves to Make Sure You're Not Dying
April 8, 2008 2:06 AM   Subscribe

Carl Zimmer's Science Tattoo Emporium - "Underneath their sober lab coats and flannel shirts, scientists hide images of their scientific passions. Here they are revealed to all." From the science journalist and writer responsible for The Loom and numerous other published works.
posted by Blazecock Pileon (33 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite
Neat. My friend is on this site. Well, her tattoo is.
And I'm dying for a new tattoo...
posted by slimepuppy at 3:15 AM on April 8, 2008

This is the best science tattoo aggregation I've ever seen. Bookmarking it now!
posted by Locative at 3:19 AM on April 8, 2008

I agree with Locative - I saw this FPP and groaned "not again", but this is the best set of science tattoos I've seen. As a non-scientist who hates tattoos, I was blown away by how much I liked lots and lots of these.
posted by jimbaud at 3:51 AM on April 8, 2008

Some of these are amazing. Deinonychus is my favourite.
posted by Elmore at 4:01 AM on April 8, 2008


That reproduction of the mummy's tattoo is very cool, though. I'm almost tempted to get it myself.
posted by Faint of Butt at 4:41 AM on April 8, 2008

I feel bad for the person who tattooed Hillis's tree of life, because at some point new data will probably invalidate it, and the fashions in taxonomy change every few years as well. I would definitely use it in a new textbook meant to last 5–10 years, but in a tattoo for life? I don't think it's quite as timeless as some of the other tattoos.
posted by grouse at 5:25 AM on April 8, 2008

only a matter a time till i get tatted up with encrypted hex.
posted by Mach5 at 5:26 AM on April 8, 2008

If a posted link is a direct descendant of an earlier posted link, does that make it a double?
posted by micketymoc at 5:36 AM on April 8, 2008

I might get this as a tattoo.
posted by flashboy at 5:46 AM on April 8, 2008

does that make it a double?

Don't know, don't care. Excellent post.

Except it's making me all drooly and wanting another tattoo right now.
posted by rtha at 6:10 AM on April 8, 2008

I'm after a tattoo, some inspiration here. The iceman tattoo is a good toe in the water.
posted by mattoxic at 6:10 AM on April 8, 2008

I'd never get a tattoo, but a lot of these would be cool with a high resolution body crayon, if such a thing exists.
posted by DU at 6:13 AM on April 8, 2008

I feel bad for the person who tattooed Hillis's tree of life, because at some point new data will probably invalidate it

Oh no, does this mean I need to replace my COBOL tattoo?
posted by lukemeister at 6:26 AM on April 8, 2008

I remember when the discovery of the "Siberian Ice Maiden" was announced years ago and being struck by the beauty of her tattoos. Here's a line drawing of one of them and the page on which I found it. Another page with a better image and a photo of the actual tattoo.
posted by onhazier at 6:31 AM on April 8, 2008 [2 favorites]

I might get this as a tattoo.

Very clever flashboy.
posted by gomichild at 6:37 AM on April 8, 2008

These are great. It's kind of inspiring that people love their work and studies enough to do this.
posted by tiny crocodile at 6:47 AM on April 8, 2008

This is fantastic, thanks. I actually have a portion of the Arecibo message tattooed on my upper arm; suddenly it doesn't seem quite so weird and nerdy.
posted by xbonesgt at 7:15 AM on April 8, 2008

Seconding Deinonychus. Totally, totally awesome.
posted by The Bellman at 7:16 AM on April 8, 2008

Don't take this the wrong way, xbonesgt, but the fact that other people are just as weird and nerdy as you doesn't make you any less weird or nerdy. Trust me. I know.
posted by The Bellman at 7:17 AM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

Phooey! You couldn't have waited till I sent Zimmer a picture of mine? I was planning to do that this weekend and now you've gone and sp- sp- spoiled everything!


But seriously, these are great and it's nice to see I'm in good company (lump me in with the chemists - mine's a molecular structure). Clearly, though, paleontologists have an unfair advantage here. And that wetland ecologist's design is gorgeous, even unfinished.

As far as I know, none of the scientists I've worked with are inked, but then again, a lot of these tattoos are in areas that are usually covered by clothing in the workplace (especially laboratories, where exposed skin is discouraged due to the risk of chemical spills). For that matter, mine's always hidden under a sleeve. Now I wonder what my colleagues might be hiding under their lab coats ...
posted by Quietgal at 7:32 AM on April 8, 2008

I'm always startled to see familiar typefaces in tattoos. It's such a human art — unpredictable, impermanent, drawn by hand with skin as the canvas, inextricably linked to scarring, healing and aging — so it's a bit of a jolt when it's modeled after something as timeless and detached as stonecutting or lead type.

But Computer Modern Roman in a tattoo design takes the cake.

I guess some people find it pretty (or at least lovably awkward, which is how it looks to me on a good day). And it's an appropriate choice for an equation. But man, human it ain't.

(As curmudgeonly as I am about this sort of thing, though, that's a damn cool tattoo. And this is a good post. Thanks!)
posted by nebulawindphone at 7:40 AM on April 8, 2008

Computer Modern Roman...it's an appropriate choice for an equation. But man, human it ain't.

I must respectfully disagree. You can argue that such a rigid, deliberate font is artificial - but if only humans make artificial things (or make things that make artificial things), then isn't artifice human?

The 'Siberian Ice Maiden' tattoo is very much artificial - an abstract, simplified representation of a natural animal. But seeing that someone 2400 years ago made that makes that person more human to me, not less. Their design looks like something a graphic artist of today would come up with. We're all human.

Richard Feynman, my favorite theoretical physicist, had a famous exchange about just this topic.
In 1966 a Swedish encyclopedia publisher wrote asking for a photograph of Feynman "beating the drum" to give "a human approach to a presentation of the difficult matter that theoretical physics represents." This was his reply:

Dear Sir,

The fact that I beat a drum has nothing to do with the fact that I do theoretical physics. Theoretical physics is a human endeavor, one of the higher developments of human beings, and the perpetual desire to prove that people who do it are human by showing that they do other things that a few other humans do (like playing bongo drums) is insulting to me.
I guess I'm saying that typography, and the subject of all these tattoos, are also extremely human endeavors. Getting a tattoo of your favorite representation of evolution is just as human as getting a tattoo of a girl on a motorcycle, or Tay Zonday.
posted by echo target at 8:28 AM on April 8, 2008

Some of them are absolute shit and just look like prison tats, but the woman with the Illustrated Swamp tattoo is a veritable academic yakuza
posted by PeterMcDermott at 8:49 AM on April 8, 2008

Oh, absolutely! I guess the word "human" may have been a red herring there. I'm not talking about "nature" vs. "artifice" (I'm not sure I believe you can draw a line there) or about "humanity" vs. "technology" (ditto).

But there's an aesthetic disconnect between the styles you tend to see in tattoo designs — the Dionysian, the neo-primitive, the joyfully ragged and handmade — and the classical, cerebral restraint of a computer-generated Roman font. It's such a different look from most body art!

That's not a bad thing, necessarily. But the contrast is a bit of a jolt!
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:56 AM on April 8, 2008

You're right, I was initially jolted by that too. Those delicate serifs look really interesting in a tattoo, probably because (as you say) you just don't see that much.

I hope those details don't fade or bleed too much over time. That would really spoil the effect.
posted by echo target at 9:20 AM on April 8, 2008

This one is my favorite.
posted by Skorgu at 10:11 AM on April 8, 2008

I'm going to get an owl perched on a neuron/branch.
posted by mayfly wake at 10:52 AM on April 8, 2008

A friend of mine got his kid's names in Ogham on the insides of his forearms. Because of the bar-code-ness of the writing, it looks a lot like he has 23rd century prision tats.

My wife has a binary tattoo around her arm. Common place now, but 10 years ago it was the coolest geek tattoo ever.

Personally, I think it would be really cool to take a sound I like; maybe a cat's meow, or a dog's bark, or something, convert it to a wave-form, and get that tattooed to by back or arm.

People would ask me about it, and I could solemnly point and just say "woof."
posted by quin at 11:01 AM on April 8, 2008 [1 favorite]

I like this serotonin tattoo.
posted by homunculus at 11:14 AM on April 8, 2008

hot hot hot!

makes my circle-of-5ths tat smile with acceptence
posted by [son] QUAALUDE at 11:25 AM on April 8, 2008

What you dont know is that the ice man got his tattoo from the ice man of his time who got the tattoo from the ice man of his time...
posted by damn dirty ape at 3:42 PM on April 8, 2008

Well, if anybody's still reading this thread, mine's now up on Zimmer's blog.

*glares at Blazecock Pileon but would be placated by addition of "biochemistry" tag*
posted by Quietgal at 8:30 PM on April 14, 2008

Aww ...

*blows kisses at BP*
posted by Quietgal at 5:24 PM on April 18, 2008

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