Jacob Landis writes, “I’m a graduate student at the University of Florida studying flower evolutionary development with a focus on plant/pollinator interactions. My ink represents the concept that I have been working on for almost 6 years now. This piece shows three species in the Phlox family. The red and white flowers are both part of the genus Ipomopsis and the blue/purple flower is in the closely related Polemonium. The pollinator of each flower is shown interacting with the flower. These interactions represent the concept of pollinator syndromes: certain features of the flower will attract certain pollinators. The long red tubular flowers attract hummingbirds, the white tubular flowers attract hawk moths, and the more open blue/purple flowers often attract bees.”
This is an image of a hawk moth and Darwin’s orchid. It spoke to me for its history, beauty, and simplicity, as well as its significance in demonstrating the predictive power of Darwin’s theory of evolution by means of natural selection. This orchid (Angraecum sesquipedale) is endemic to Madagascar and has an unusually long spur (20-35cm), where it keeps its nectar. Charles Darwin predicted in 1862 that even though a moth with an equally lengthy proboscis had not yet been discovered, one must exist in order to pollinate the orchid. Alfred R. Wallace supported this hypothesis in an 1867 paper. The moth, Xanthopan morganii [praedicta] was discovered in Madagascar in 1903, well after both men had passed.
I have been a lover of biology practically since birth. I got a BS in Physiological Science and am now completing a PhD in History of Science. While my specific work is not in the history of biology and evolution, it’s my A-#1 nerd passion (well… a tie with science fiction). A little less quietly, I’m a little proud of myself for getting this beauty in Texas, the week the State Board of Education asked a panel of reviewers (many of whom believe in or are sympathetic to creationism) to review biology textbooks.
The BBC told the story of this remarkable moth (and remarkable prediction) in their show, Museum of Life:
(Tattoo artist: El Sando at Dovetail Tattoo, Austin, TX)
Writer Jaime Green writes, “Here is my contribution to the collection, my tattoo of the pulsar map from the Voyager golden record, tattooed by the awesome Joseph Ari Aloi. A high point of my life was getting to show it to Frank Drake.”
Luciano Valenzuela writes,
I got this tattoo after finishing my PhD at the University of Utah working on the ecology of southern right whales that visit the coast of Peninsula Valdes (northern Patagonia), Argentina. The tattoo depicts a Surface Active Group (SAG). SAGs are usually thought as mating groups or whales in apparent courtship behavior. At Peninsula Valdes the SAGs that we normally see are much smaller with only a handful of whales, but the energy displayed by these animals is just as impressive as the large groups seen in other populations or species. The tattoo is actually a modification of Figure 1 in Kraus and Hatch (2001) showing a SAG of North Atlantic right whales. I think once you see them from close proximity you can appreciate how powerful and gentle at the same time these huge animals can be.
Here’s the original figure.
Adam Platz writes,
“The equation is called the Friedmann equation and, simply put, governs the expansion of space in a homogenous universe such as our own. In the 1920s Alexander Friedmann, a Russian astrophysicist, sought to unite Einstein’s recently conceived theory of general relativity with a general model for our universe’s behavior. The Freidmann equation resulted. From its basic form, one can derive the density of the universe at a given time, the pressure, the mass, the age of the universe, and finally the rate of expansion of the universe (found in a term known as the Hubble constant). In 2008 during my senior year at Dartmouth, my senior seminar in astrophysics focused in part on this equation. I always found the equation to be elegant and beautiful. My own little god equation. Explaining where we came from and what we are made of. That year I thought up the idea of the tattoo and decided that if in 5 years I was still interested in the ink, I would get it. And so I did in 2013.”
Sara Faust writes, “The Science Ink collection has been a favorite among my friends and me for a long time, and I am excited to finally be able to submit for your consideration a (hopefully) unique nerdy tattoo of my own. After explaining to the tattoo artist and various family friends that, no, it is not a raisin or a boot tread or a pill, it will be a relief to share it with people who perhaps will appreciate the humor of an endosymbiotic twist on the classic “Mom” ink. The moment I first learned about mitochondrial DNA, my immediate reaction was, ‘That would make a great Mom tattoo…’ Years later, it’s finally a reality!”
For more on this gift from our mothers, all the way back to Mitochondrial Eve and beyond, read this.
Dan Weston writes, “Given your interest in Moby Dick and tattoos, I thought you might appreciate my recent tattoo, based on an illustration by Rockwell Kent from the 1930’s edition (that I inherited from my grandmother and have read so many times that I had to have it rebound).”
Clearly, Dan has read my post from last year, “Herman Melville, Science Writer.”
For years I owned a copy of Moby Dick with Rockwell Kent’s dream-like engravings. The book disappeared a while ago, but the pictures remain how I see the story. The Plattsburgh State Art Museum has an online gallery of Kent’s illustrations here; I’ve reprinted the source of Dan’s ink below.
I think I need to buy myself another copy as a birthday present.
Jon Clarke writes, “As an avid cyclist and physics teacher, I had a tattoo a few months ago on my calf, and wondered whether that would fit with your archive. Having been given a cycle computer a year ago, I was frustrated and surprised that no matter how hard I cycled–on a level road without a tailwind or fast-moving large vehicle to shadow–I could never reach the UK speed limit in built-up areas (30mph). After some thought, I concluded that the dominant effect, and therefore limitation, was the power required to overcome aerodynamic drag for turbulent flow.”
In this tattoo, v is the speed of a bicyclist, and P is the rate at which muscles have to do work in order to overcome air resistance. If you double your speed, you have to work eight times harder. It is, in other words, a tattoo of human limitation.
Matt Zielinski writes, “I recently learned that you collect images of science tattoos. Attached is a photo of a tattoo I recently had done. I wanted a biomechanical theme to the piece with a special focus on the material chemistry that could potentially be used if this piece of sci-fi comes to life. The tattoo starts on the left with simple atoms and molecules (water, NO3) and evolves into the organic chains. Those macromolecules are PEEK, PEI, and polysulfone, all of which are engineered polymers commonly used in the medical device industry today. They can also withstand incredibly high temperatures and are very strong materials. The ball-and-stick macromolecule is intended to be ADP to demonstrate a synthesis of engineered and natural chemistry in the final product, the half-machine, half-woman face at the top right.
“I am a chemical engineer by education who works in the specialty polymer industry. A lot of the projects I work on were the inspiration for this tattoo and I believe that the technology to produce the biomechanical woman is not so far fetched as many would think.”
The ancient Greeks believed that the constellation Gemini represented the twin horsemen Castor and Pollux. According to one version of the story, Castor was an ordinary human, while Pollux, the son of Zeus, lived forever. Castor was mortally wounded during a battle, whereupon Zeus offered Pollux a choice: he could let Castor die or he could give his brother half his immortality. Pollux chose to save his brother, and forever afterwards they would spend a day Olympus followed by a day in Hades.
“My twin brother died from suicide in 2011,” writes Zach Poynter. He chose to memorialize his brother with two tattoos on his arm. One is of the constellation Gemini. The other is of DNA. “We were identical twins, thus sharing the same DNA (although not expressing it the same way!)” Poynter writes.
Jason Affourtit writes, “The encircling equation represents biological nitrogen fixation, which was at the core of my undergrad/graduate labwork. Working in that research lab (which was originally just part of requirements for med school!–my intended goal) totally changed my focus…So it’s an homage to that period of time, my wonderful advisor, and that lab. DNA has been central to my work life in genomics and has run through as a common theme. So to me, a G-C basepair seemed a natural symbol of that.”
(Tattoo by Nick Bergin from Godspeed Tattoo in San Mateo, CA.)
Alyssa writes, “I’m a wildlife biology student at UC Davis with a particular obsession with ornithology, as well as a strong love for the rich, diverse ecosystems we have along the coast of northern California. Somehow seeing Brown Pelicans flying by, their bizarre combination of obvious goofiness with an odd elegance never fails to put a smile on my face. I also appreciate that (offshore oil drilling problems aside), their population growth after ESA listing is about as close to a success story as we have in conservation. My tattoo is based of a painting by one of my heroes, John James Audubon. I asked the tattoo artist to darken the hind-neck and redden the gular pouch to reflect the characteristic breeding coloration the pacific subspecies, Pelecanus occidentalis californicus. I also asked for the foliage to be removed to better reflect the roosting habitat in California. The tattoo is by Chris Arredondo at Royal Peacock Tattoo Parlor in Sacramento, CA.”
A reader writes, “I’m James Bernot, a graduate student studying shark and tapeworm coevolution at the University of Connecticut. Here is a tattoo I have on my calf of a Northwestern Pacific tribal shark, complete with a tetraphyllidean tapeworm near the shark’s pelvic fin.”
It’s hard for me to resist a tattoo of a shark tapeworm.
Close-up of tapeworm:
“My project developed into defining how infections are combated in different anatomical locations and the host/microbial factors dictate these responses. I am scheduled to do my post-graduate studies with a collaborator of ours, so that I may stay in the Salmonella field, studying what is now a lifetime love/interest/career.
“There are few things in my life that have had greater impact in my life than Salmonella. Therefore, I thought it’d only be appropriate to have a permanent reminder. I quickly decided I wanted it placed on my inside ankle. The problem was finding the right person for the job. Once I found an artist willing to tattoo it (Scott Barbier at Electric Ladyland in New Orleans), we went back and forth about an accurate versus an artistic representation of Salmonella. Scott decided to freehand the tattoo on my ankle.
“While nervous at first, I was very pleased with his conturing of the peritrichous flagella around the natural curves of my ankle. As any good artist, Scott wanted to add more details and begun tattooing what to him were dots, but to me were outer membrane porins or pili. He also decided to shade the cell wall core.
“I could not have been happier with the results. Throughout the process, I discovered that this tattoo was the oddest one that he–or the store, for that matter–had ever tattooed before. This of course led to many artists popping their heads in the room with eager eyes to witness my developing tattoo. I certainly felt like I was a unique spectacle, so I shared a few different fun facts about Salmonella with them as they watched. The whole experience added to my personal love of Salmonella and my tattoo. Now what to get tattooed next!”
Brandon Klug writes, “I got this tattoo in January 2009 during the first year of my MSc research and it encompasses a lot of my scientific interests. My background is in zoology and I have a fascination with anatomy, specifically anything to do with the musculoskeletal system. When I got the tattoo, I was studying adaptations of reproductive and newborn tree-bats in Canada and very quickly became hooked on these amazing animals. One of the biggest puzzles in bat evolution was the question of whether they echolocated or flew first, and this fossil (Onychonycteris finneyi), the oldest bat fossil (52 million years old) yet discovered, led to the conclusion that bats evolved the ability to fly before they developed echolocation. In general, this tattoo represents my love for anatomy, evolution, and bats in general.”
By pure coincidence, I wrote about Onychonycteris finneyi when it was first unveiled in 2008. Here’s my Loom post.