Science Ink – A Book “Review” in Tattoos

23 Jun

No matter what they say, how long and loudly they insist that they’re just like you and me, don’t believe them. Scientists are truly different. Case in point: the images they choose to adorn their bodies. In some instances, “festoon” may be the more appropriate word.

I’m talking about the book, Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed. Published in 2011, it crossed my radar a few months ago at one of my favorite San Francisco independent bookstores, Green Apple Books, Inc. With a foreword by Mary Roach (of GULP [most recent], Stiff, Bonk, and Packing for Mars fame) and introduction by another popular science writer, Carl Zimmer, this book catches the eye with its cover:

Science Ink 001

Science Ink came about after Zimmer noticed scientists were claiming their territories through tattoos–an anthropologist’s research study in the making. And over a period of years, he collected empirical evidence: photos and stories from scientists (and other science-focused people) about how their tattoos came to be.

But the book is more than a dip into eccentricities. It’s a nice little primer on many science/math concepts. From Bucky Balls to DNA to evolution and astronomy, this book covers a lot of ink.

In her foreword, Mary Roach contends that  “Scientists, as much as bikers or gang members, have the requisite motivator for a trip to the tattoo parlor: a passion that defines them.”

She’s not kidding. Some of the tatts on display are elaborate, eccentric, and esoteric. Others are simple, straightforward, and fairly well-known icons even to English Majors.

Check out the variety on the back end papers:

Hapkido and Science Ink 011

One inspired geographer writes: “On my back, I have a map of the world. It is a Strebe Equal-area projection, polyconic. It took me a year to figure out which projection I wanted to live with for the rest of my life…It’s very organic in shape, and I appreciate that it is Afro-centric and not Euro or Amer-centric.”

I’m thinking this woman is also a swimmer. She’s got great (lats) latitude. (Sorry, I won’t do that again.)
Hapkido and Science Ink 015

One young man who “always wanted a tattoo that would represent science, evolution and skeptical inquiry” settled on “a portrait of Darwin, inspired by The Blind Watchmaker by Richard Dawkins…Darwin plays the role of evolution, unable to see the genes he is engineering.”

Now I ask you, would you be able to sleep at night if the top of Darwin’s head was blowing off your calf muscle–although, it is a beautiful work of art…
Hapkido and Science Ink 013

Other tattoos are artistically much more simple but still depict complex concepts such as quantum mechanics’ “Schröedinger’s Cat. Suprisingly, this tatt is NOT sported by a scientist, but by an actor-comedian who says: “I’m a big fan of quantum mechanics (regardless of how little I truly understand it)…So getting a tattoo of  Schröedinger’s Cat seemed like a no-brainer. It’s on my right forearm, which means it ends up being a good conversation started after a quick handshake. Either people get what it is right away, or I have the pleasure of explaining ‘No, it’s not two cats fornicating, it’s one superpositioned cat.'”

In the famed thought experiment, the cat isolated inside the box is both dead and alive (it exists in two states) until someone opens the box to make the observation. The book goes on to explain how scientists have built a Schröedinger’s Cat system that allows electric current to flow clockwise and counterclockwise simultaneously around the same superconducting loop. Simple, eh?
Hapkido and Science Ink 014

And then there are the sentimental scientists who dedicate their careers and tattoos to family members who have suffered with incurable diseases. A particularly poignant neuron tattoo (I can’t believe I just wrote that) is dedicated to a young scientist’s father.
Hapkido and Science Ink 016This book contains so many spectacular tattoos  (some more risqué than others) that I was tempted to include them all in this post. But I shall restrain the impulse, since I don’t have enough storage space on WordPress.

Suffice to say that Science Ink is a fascinating trip through math and science concepts, one that will appeal to both visual artists and those who want to dip their toes in various sciences without getting too far in over their heads.

27 Responses to “Science Ink – A Book “Review” in Tattoos”

  1. FictionFan June 23, 2013 at 6:52 pm #

    Sounds fascinating & great photos – but more to the point what a stunningly gorgeous book cover! I’m drooling with desire…

  2. heylookawriterfellow June 24, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    Every time I see a tattoo, I think to myself “Why?”

    The only time I could wrap my brain around the idea was once I saw the movie “Memento.”

    But, hey, I’m a cantankerous old fogey.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 24, 2013 at 11:30 am #

      I think one of the things this book does is explain “why” for the folks who’s tattoos fill these pages. For every tattoo, there is a reason. Memento freaked me out, BTW.

      I live among many tattooed individuals in San Francisco, and I came to realize that sometimes the tattoos have significant meaning, and other times it was done on a lark. Some of the work is worthy of an art museum, like many that reside in this book’s pages. Others just look disastrous. As a science geek, I respect the fact that these folks love science so much, that it is so much a part of their lives, that they want to make it a physical part of themselves. Ear piercing became mainstream. I’m thinking that tattoos and many other forms of body decoration/manipulation are going that way as well.

      You are not cantankerous, old, or a fogey (the OED prefers the spelling “fogy”, BTW, although I’ve never seen it spelled that way. Strange. For some reason, I was curious about the origins of these two words this morning.

      • heylookawriterfellow June 24, 2013 at 12:31 pm #

        You are probably right with tattoos becoming mainstream — if they aren’t mainstream already. I also understand that some people getting tattos can be deeply personal reasons.

        But I stand by my old fogeyishness: Bah! Get offa my lawn!

        • Jilanne Hoffmann June 24, 2013 at 12:40 pm #

          Watch out for those young whippersnappers who ring your doorbell and run, giggling and squealing all the way down the street.

        • heylookawriterfellow June 24, 2013 at 12:44 pm #

          I’ll turn the hose on ’em!

      • erickeys June 24, 2013 at 12:49 pm #

        Surely you can direct some current though the doorbell button. Seriously, what law abiding citizen ever rings someone’s doorbell these days? Young hooligans and Jehovah’s Witnesses is all. (I wonder if that’s what happens to the young hooligans when they are no longer young – do they become door-to-door evangelists?)

        • Jilanne Hoffmann June 24, 2013 at 12:53 pm #

          I think you’re on to something, my dear Watson. Electric current through the doorbell. I’m surprised no one has thought of that. Although, I wonder if the folks working on the Schrodinger Cat superconductor circuits are exploring that as a sideline.

  3. erickeys June 24, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    Too many wonderful books to read, too little time…

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 24, 2013 at 11:17 am #

      It’s maddening, isn’t it?

      • erickeys June 24, 2013 at 11:18 am #

        Indeed. People always seem to find a way to write something really cool about things I never would have thought of… Such as scientists and tattoos…

  4. Letizia June 24, 2013 at 9:50 am #

    I so rarely see original tattoos – these are great! Looks like a beautiful book – the relationship between skin, ink and identity is quite interesting.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 24, 2013 at 11:16 am #

      Yes, it is. Loving something so much that you want it to become a part of you, literally. Or the longing to show you are a member of a certain tribe through ornament. Very interesting.

      • Call of the Siren June 24, 2013 at 4:52 pm #

        Man, this book looks amazing. What a find, Jil. Thanks for calling it to our attention, and especially for your response to Eric Keys and Letizia above — about wanting to declare ourselves as part of a tribe. So often I’ve thought of tattoos as trying to declare the opposite, and I clearly wasn’t thinking about it enough.

        • Jilanne Hoffmann June 24, 2013 at 5:17 pm #

          I’m thinking you need a siren tattoo. Perhaps you’ll consider getting one when it’s near “closing time,” when you’re done harassing the barkeep. :o)

        • Call of the Siren June 28, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

          You’ve given me a great plan, Jil. I can see it now. A mermaid tattoo…. coming soon to theaters, “The Former Editor with the Mermaid Tattoo”….

        • Jilanne Hoffmann June 28, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

          so long as it’s not the Little Mermaid :o)

  5. Amy (KidFreeLiving) June 25, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    Wow – very cool – what a find – Thanks for sharing!

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 25, 2013 at 9:58 am #

      Is it quite spectacular. I highly recommend it. Thanks for stopping by!

  6. tchistorygal June 25, 2013 at 5:14 pm #

    What a great book review. It’s one I would never have read, so I appreciate you reviewing it. I love the neuron one, and I’m really not much on tattoos. Well done 🙂

    • Jilanne Hoffmann June 25, 2013 at 7:47 pm #

      Thanks, Marsha! Some of the artwork is truly astounding. So many of these were created by fine artists. Not your run-of-the-mill tattoos. And the educational science aspect is a bonus! :o)

      • tchistorygal June 25, 2013 at 11:11 pm #

        They are amazing works of art. I can’t imagine having them pierced into my skin permanently , but they are beautiful. 🙂

  7. cricketmuse July 22, 2013 at 6:40 am #

    My paradigm has just shifted–I never connected scientists with tats. My fogeynish is showing again. *sigh*

    • Jilanne Hoffmann July 22, 2013 at 1:30 pm #

      You can’t be that fogeyish if your paradigm shifted at all, so congratulate yourself on your openness. :o)

      Just curious, though, what was the magnitude of the shift–on the Richter Scale?

      • cricketmuse July 22, 2013 at 3:26 pm #

        I don’t know if Richter created a tatoo scale, but on my own Paradigm Scale I would said a 3 if zero is unmovably traditionalist of “skin ink is stink” and five is “whatever feels right, ink it.” I just wonder what a 70 year old calf Einstein is going to look like. Then again, no, I don’t.

        • Jilanne Hoffmann July 22, 2013 at 4:28 pm #

          Yes, best not to visualize things like that.

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