By the end of the 20th century, many of the stigmas of the tattoo culture had been dismissed, and the practice has become more acceptable and accessible for people of all trades and levels of society, including scientists…
To begin with, what is a tattoo?
Tattooing involves the placement of ink, dyes and pigment into the skin’s dermis, the layer of dermal tissue underlying the epidermis, in order to create a permanent design. Following the initial injection, pigment is dispersed through the epidermis and dermis, activating phagocytes which then take up the ink particles as they would an invading pathogen. As the tattoo heals, pigment remains trapped in the macrophages of the upper dermis, leading to a stable, long-term design on the skin.
In modern times, the ink is injected with a tattoo machine via a single or group of needles which oscillate rapidly. The sensation can be described as similar to a cat scratch, with the level of pain experiences related to the fat: nerve content of the skin being tattooed. I have five tattoos, and found my wrists were the least painful while my foot and knee were the most.
Tattoo designs vary wildly, with different schools of art styles, from traditional to new school, realistic to watercolour and the subject matter is almost infinite!
So, what are some nice examples of science tattoos?
Let’s start with the tools!
At the molecular level atoms are a common motif:
Moving up to molecules, caffeine, dopamine and serotonin are popular choices as is the DNA double helix. Cells as a whole offer a great visual:
And even organs!
We are all made of stars…
I’d like to end highlighting one of the best science tattoos around, in my opinion. Taking the molecular structures of amino acid and using their one-letter codes, and inspired by Carl Sagan’s quote “The nitrogen in our DNA, the calcium in our teeth, the iron in our blood, the carbon in our apple pies were made in the interiors of collapsing stars…”, came this:
P.S. My very own science tattoo!
About the author:
Following a MSc in Biomedical Sciences at the University of Westminster, I began a career in publishing and am currently the Managing Editor for the reviews journals at Portland Press. I enjoy popular culture and ‘geeky’ interests, secured the ultimate bonus points when I got married a few years ago at San Diego Comic Con in California (and no, we did not dress up in cosplay).