Today, when you think of tattoos, you don’t automatically assume what many of our parents did – that they’re reserved for bikers and military types (think cartoon Popeye with the anchors on his forearms). People from all walks of life wear them now as art, and as expressions of love, loss, and remembrance. They express themselves and their passions, no matter how weird or geeky, through their tattoos. Some wear bold, intricate sleeves of things they love while others choose more modest designs that can be concealed beneath business suits or jeans. Tattoos today can be true works of art, involving hours of meticulous detail and several sessions of sitting through the willingly incurred pain of the needle. Johnny Depp said it best, “My body is my journal, and my tattoos are my story.” In this first installment of our Geeks With Ink series featuring submissions from Susan, Meg, and Kelly, we see how science and mathematics become meaningful tattoo art.


Neuron Tattoo with Johnny Depp quote

Susan: This is a pyramidal neuron of the hippocampus – a major region for creating memory in the brain. There are three reasons I chose this tattoo, and to me, they all speak of the beauty in science, which many see as dry and cold. First, this is what I DO. I’m a PhD candidate in neuroscience. This is something I am going to spend my career trying to understand and explain. When people ask whether I was sure I wanted to be marked with this for life . . . well, I better be, because I’m making a career out of it! Second, this was a crazy idea with a wonderful friend I met at a neuroscience conference. Without what I study, I would never have travelled to meet this friend, and my life would be poorer, so it reminds me of him and the opportunities I’ve been lucky enough to have. Third – this is where it gets a bit philosophical. I saw something not long before I got my tattoo comparing the pattern of neurons in the brain and the distribution of galaxies in the universe. Everything in nature seems to make connections in this same pattern. There’s even a mathematical constant that describes angles that occur repeatedly (“the golden ratio”). Whenever someone spots my tattoo and asks me what it is, the most interesting thing that’s come of it is flipping the question back on them: What do you think it is? People have said veins, a bullet through glass, river patterns, fracture patterns from earthquakes, a spreading infection (ick!), and so many other things. The neuron has become a symbol of how every system seems to have some similar basic set up, and how everything in the universe is connected, but also of how we are all shaped by our different experiences. That people could see so many things from one black outline is kind of beautiful to me. I originally found the artwork that inspired my tattoo here.

Meg Neil Armstrong Tattoo

Meg: I chose my second tattoo to commemorate what I believe is the greatest human accomplishment so far. While so many people put their faith in a higher power’s will to see them through, I place mine in the indomitability of the human spirit. Faced with fear of the unknown and the likelihood of a painful and live-broadcast death, two men put their lives in the hands of a team of nerds armed with little more than calculators and a desire to shoot some dudes into space and WALKED ON THE FUCKING MOON! Whenever my faith in humanity begins to falter, whenever I don’t feel strong enough, smart enough, or brave enough to do what needs to be done, I think about the fact that Buzz Aldrin and Neil Armstrong walked around on the moon and made it back home safely.

Kelly Love Equation Tattoo

Kelly: This is a nerd alert, and most likely puke worthy to some, but my husband and I got matching tattoos just after we were married. Our marriage was quick, yet love was more than abundant. Therefore, we did this: love equals the quantity of “us” multiplied by the speed of light squared. Our names both start with K and our last name is Corbin, so KC2 made sense.

Stay tuned for the next installment of Geeks With Ink: Gaming & Comics!


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