When scientists get tattoos


If you have earned the right to call yourself a scientist, then you have invested years of time and effort in deep study and  experimentation. Science has become an integral (pun intended) part of your life. So why not make it a permanent part of your skin?

Turns out that plenty of scientists get their passions inked on to their bodies in the form of a tattoo. Stevens Johnson, a professor of Physics and Engineering, is one of them.

The right shoulder tattoo [above] is a 3D perspective abstract view of a gaussian photon, a “particle of light,” the red vertical undulations represent the electric field, the black horizontal undulations the magnetic field. It is propagating to the right, seen here as a snapshot in time. The photon is the single most common manner in which information is transmitted from one place in the universe to another. The tattoo artist suggested adding the faint shadows to give it depth, but the real reason I agreed was the ironic (oxymoronic?) humor of a particle of light casting a shadow.

The left shoulder tattoo [below] is a 3D perspective of the Periodic Table with the Planck Snake weaving around it (note the h-bar, Plank’s constant, in the eye). The snake represents the wave nature of matter, and Physics in general. (The infinity symbol the snake forms is a bonus.) The combination of the Periodic Table of Chemistry with the Planck Snake of Physics is also an inside joke at the expense of chemists: It took the Quantum Mechanics of Physics to explain to Chemistry its own Table of Elements.


More — many, many more — at the Science Tattoo Emporium.

(via Coudal)

8 thoughts on “When scientists get tattoos”

  1. I am the owner of the above tattoos. Photos of very artistic tattoos of Gauss’ Thm, Stokes’ Thm, and the Calculus of Residues are on the way. Ink has already been laid to canvas, one is still healing, it’s really only a matter of time for me to figure out how to photograph them (They wrap around the forearms about 60%).

  2. Hi Stevens, thanks for the comment. I have always said that there’s nothing permanent enough in my life that I would want it tattooed on my skin, but I guess the the physical laws that describe the universe are about as permanent as you can get.


    PS. For taking pictures that wrap around, you might be able to take multiple pictures and stitch them together in Photoshop. Let me know how it turns out!

  3. Grant, stitching several photos together is precisely what I am attempting, but so far nothing but garbage. First time the stitching has failed for me (I do nature panaramae as a hobby, the stitching is usually the least of my worries.). I suspect the variable background is fooling the software. I’ll think of something eventually; there are a few tricks not yet tried.

    Cheers and the clink of two beer mugs back at you!

    1. Hmmm, I can imagine what you mean. Is there a way you can stick your arm out at your side, dangle your forearm down, and try to get a plain white wall in as your background? I’m not sure where the tattoo is, exactly, but your arm might not rotate that far around. Or, do you mean the variable background of skin is fooling the software?

      If that’s the case, I would try doing it manually. Copy each image onto a new, big canvas, play with the transparency so you can see through them a bit, and get real friendly with the transform tool, to make them the same size.

      You know what else, is that Photoshop has a lens correction filter — you might have more success if you “flatten out” the cylinder of your arm before stitching the photos together. No idea whether it would still look like an arm when you’re done, though.

      Now you’ve piqued my interest. I’d be happy to take a whack at it, if you wanted to send me some pictures.

  4. Thanks for the suggestions. I use a highly sophisticated and specialized stitching program (not Photoshop), but the main problem is getting good quality original shots. Next attempt will use a neutral white or light blue background, a zoom lens from at least 10 or 12 feet away, lots of diffuse lighting, and let the wife check each view before shooting from the tripod. Perhaps do some severe cropping of each exposure so that only a thin square-on slice is seen at a time.

    For a relatively simple sounding problem, this is rapidly becoming a gigantic effort. Oh well. It’s for a good cause.

    1. Sounds like the narrow slices approach might be fruitful.

      Perhaps you can diagram the solution to this problem, and get it as a second-order tattoo? I can see it now: the Johnson Equation, describing the flat projection of a cylinder as a series of slices, approximating perfection as the narrowness of the slices approaches infinity.

      (I tried to write it out, but a WordPress comment box doesn’t do mathematical notation very well)

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