National Geographic

The Return of the Science Tattoo Emporium

A few years back, I noticed a DNA tattoo on the arm of a neuroscientist. He informed me that it spelled out his wife’s initials according to the genetic code. And that enchanting discovery turned me, much to my own surprise, into an amateur anthropologist of scientist body art and the author of Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed. (Reviews)

I’ve archived the ~300 tattoos here at National Geographic so that future generations of researchers can analyze them for clues to the folkways of scientists and the scientifically-minded in the early twenty-first century. And I’m still getting fresh ink via email. I will continue to post them here on Saturdays. (The tattoo-averse can thus safely continue reading the Loom while avoiding a scorch of their retinas.)

The tattoo shown here is from Willow Brugh. She writes:

I had this deep fascination with transhumanism in college (still do, to a degree), and geared up to go to law school in anticipation of the coming legal war over prosthetics and implants. Who controls the information going through your cochlear implant? If you would gain more dexterity through an artificial limb, is it legal for a surgeon to remove a fully operational biological limb? But I’ve seen law school brainwash a few people, so I started getting quotes tattoo’d on me as reminders of what I hold dear. It’s ASCII hex because the abstraction of language is fascinating to me, and because while my relationship to the quotes might change, our relationship to the networks we build (and how we speak to/with them) will only become more complex. Three lines of code in, I found out about the EFF and figured I should go into helping make a world where those cases happen. So I co-founded a maker space (Jigsaw Renaissance) and a way to link hacker and maker spaces together (Space Federation), and then got into engaging those communities with humanitarian response. That’s still my focus, with Geeks Without Bounds, we’re an accelerator for humanitarian projects.

The heart and its surroundings are because the quotes just keep coming up, and I didn’t want to look like the matrix. Many of my mental battles have been about accepting organic nature and seeing how it relates to the digital, and wanted to express that by having body art which embraced form. So I was sending all these pictures of images and tattoos I liked to my tattoo artist. A month before I went in for two more lines of code, all the conversations I was having started revolving around how I needed to pay more attention to my heart (I’m a bit of a robot, and learning to interact with emotion for the sake of people I care about has been a long and arduous journey). I walked into Action Tattoo, and Aaron had drawn this thing up – transit lines for the structures we build reflecting the organic world we come from, and the particle trails, and circuits, and of course the heart. So we got it done.

More details are at Willow’s blog. (Thanks to Vaughan Bell for noticing Willow on a train and pointing her in my direction.)

You can zoom in on the details below, in this Gigapan by Rich Gibson:

You can see the rest of the Science Tattoo Emporium here or in my book, Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.

There are 3 Comments. Add Yours.

  1. Ellen Renwick
    January 2, 2013

    I hope she sees a dermatologist about that mole! Very cool tatt…

  2. Willow
    January 4, 2013

    @Ellen – if you notice, there is a scar from where I did have my moles checked out and one was not safe. The others are healthy, and I keep up on them.

  3. Ellen Renwick
    August 6, 2013

    Glad to hear you got an unsafe mole taken care of! I’m from a family of very fair-skinned cancer prone people so tend to obnoxiously notice moles when I should mind my own business. Sorry! Still love the tattoo.

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