Tattooed with science

    Anyone can get a tattoo of the word “Mom” on an upper arm.

    But what kind of person gets a tattoo of the chemical structure of caffeine on her upper back?

    The science-obsessed, like Scientific American blogger Scicurious.

    “I have spent a lot of my professional life studying drugs of various kinds, because I’m a pharmacologist,” Scicurious said. “I have always thought that the drugs that I study over time will change, but the one drug in my life that will never change is caffeine. It’s the one thing that scientists really depend on.”

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    Scicurious, who blogs under a pseudonym to avoid hate mail about her animal research, is included in the book “Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.”

    Its author, science writer Carl Zimmer, has been collecting images of science tattoos on his blog since 2007.  

    He was amazed at the volume and diversity of the scientific community’s body ink: everything from a full-back depiction of a cataclysmic, prehistoric asteroid strike to the digits of pi winding around an arm. He noticed a few things that set science tattoos apart as he collected the images. First: science tattoos involve a good bit of reflection. “These are not tattoos that scientists wake up in the morning and wonder how they ended up with them,” Zimmer said. “These are things scientists work out very methodically. What would be the very best quantum physics equation to put on my arm?” Second: Scientists often get their tattoos after completing their Ph.D.s, sometimes paying homage to equations or compounds that dominated their work for years. Third: They often keep them quiet until they get tenure.

    Carl Zimmer is the author of “Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed.”  He will be talking tattoos at Frankford Hall on Sunday, April 29 at 2p.m. as part of the Philadelphia Science Festival.

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