The tattoos of scientists
A new book on store shelves -- Science Ink: Tattoos of the Science Obsessed -- shows the often-elegant, always gorgeous tattoos of scientists who have inked themselves with pictures of their scientific passion. It inspired us to see how many Toronto scientists -- whether mathemetician, physicist or cancer researcher -- have geek ink. Turns out, a lot.
Here are some examples:
Affiliation: A graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto.
Research: Adam studies ant-pollinator and ant-plant interactions. “I’m currently working on a lab project involving ant-bee conflict, and am in the middle of a pollen consumption survey of neotropical ants.”
Tattoo inspiration: “I have a cladogram tattooed on my leg. Cladograms are used in biology to show the evolutionary relationships between organisms and I decided to get it because it was a fantastic symbol of my love for ecology and evolutionary biology. I couldn't be happier with it.”
Affiliation: Completed an undergraduate degree in botany and ecology and evolutionary biology.
Research: Melanie is a lab technician in the Cutter Lab at the University of Toronto, whose scientists study the genetic basis of evolutionary change. Melanie plans to pursue graduate studies in mycology (the study of fungi).
Tattoo inspiration: “I've always been fascinated with evolution and have been in awe of the diversity of life on our planet, and throughout my undergraduate studies have become more enamored of Charles Darwin and his curiosity and fascination with the natural world. Last summer I took part in a summer abroad course at U of T in Ecuador and the Galapagos - which included a visit to the site where Darwin was believed to have first set foot on these islands - and I felt a strong kinship knowing that I was witnessing many of the same evolutionary phenomena about which he wrote in "On the Origin of Species". To celebrate my love for both Darwin and evolution, I recently got a tattoo on my right inner forearm of Darwin's preliminary drawing of a branching evolutionary tree from his "Notebook B", showing descent with modification from a common ancestor; this illustration is both simple and profound, as it summarizes the biological process that gave rise to all life on earth. My favourite part of the drawing, and of the tattoo, is the "I think" that Darwin included above the tree, as it emphasizes the state of the idea at the time as a thought or hypothesis Darwin jotted in his notebook. The fact that we now know that descent with modification underlies the process of evolution shows that even preliminary scientific musings can become influential and fundamental to informing our understanding of the world around us.”
Affiliation: A graduate student in the Department of Cell and Systems Biology at the University of Toronto.
Research: David studies the mechanisms of hibernation utilized by the western painted turtle. “The western painted turtle is one of the world’s most anoxia tolerant vertebrates. They live in Southern Canada and the Northern United States and survive the winter by burrowing into the mud at the bottoms of lakes and streams and staying there without oxygen for 4 months at about 3 degrees Celsius. In order to survive this ordeal, they reduce all of the energy utilizing processes they can: they stop breathing, their heart rate plummets, and neural activity almost ceases. We are very interested in the mechanisms by which they accomplish this primarily in the brain because most mammals cannot withstand even minutes of oxygen deprivation without permanent brain damage. The process is made even more amazing by the fact that they don't appear to need any preparation to undergo this process, and can enter a hibernation state whenever oxygen levels begin to drop. We currently understand many of the mechanisms through which these changes are developed, and we hope to one day be able to mimic these conditions in human beings. We hope that this will advance to the point where we can bring on anoxic protection instantaneously by means of a drug injection, primarily aimed at giving a method by which individuals suffering a stroke can be placed into a metabolically depressed state to prevent brain damage until proper medical attention can be received.”
Tattoo inspiration: David got his tattoo in the second year of his undergraduate degree, when he first began to learn about hibernation and metabolic depression. “The concept of an organism slowing down all of its life processes to the point where it appeared to be lifeless for months, only to rise anew without any permanent damage in the spring intrigued me. I loved the reoccurring idea of death and rebirth coupled on a seasonal basis. This concept coupled with my already strong love of biology and a friend who was willing to help me get a discount at a local tattoo shop led me to get a Phoenix from shoulder to shoulder. I have always loved the concept of the mythical bird dying when it is its time only to be reborn anew from the ashes to be an apt way of viewing life, and I feel that it was these feeling that eventually put me on my current research path.”
Affiliation: A graduate student at the Campbell Family Institute for Breast Cancer Research at Princess Margaret Hospital.
Research: Isaac is “investigating new ways to exploit the inherent weaknesses of cancer cells in order to kill them.”
Tattoo inspiration: Isaac has a tattoo on his right forearm of an older lumberjack sharpening his axe.
“The story/legend behind my tattoo is that a young lumberjack starts work at a lumber mill, and in an effort to impress his new coworkers, he works extremely hard and long hours at the job. While working away, he sees an older lumberjack go at a slower pace and work less hours. At the end of the week, the old lumberjack asks how the young lumberjack is doing. He responds "I am completely exhausted but I worked so hard that I cut 100 trees." The old lumberjack replies "Not bad....I cut 200 trees though." When the surprised young lumberjack asks how this could be possible, the old lumberjack replies "Well, every night I go home and sharpen my axe".
The meaning in relation to science is that many times we think that working harder and longer hours will lead to new discoveries and breakthroughs. But we cannot forget to keep our minds sharp, to see the big picture, and to not work with a "blunt axe".”
Affiliation: Associate creative director at john st. advertising.
Research: “I create advertising and promotional materials for pharmaceutical and healthcare clients.” After completing an undergraduate in biology, Bobby realized that he would rather talk about science than actually do it, which is why he went into communications.
Tattoo inspiration: “I got my tattoo of a stylized DNA helix because I wanted something to commemorate and symbolize the importance of my family. At a basic biological level, DNA (genetic relatedness) is one way to define a family.”
Affiliation: A graduate student in the Department of Molecular Genetics at the University of Toronto.
Research: “My research has focused on the identification of chemical inhibitors of a DNA repair protein called PNKP in the hopes of developing a PNKP inhibitor into a drug for research purposes and/or cancer therapy.”
Tattoo inspiration: The tattoo that I have goes across my shoulders and is the reaction mechanism for ATP hydrolysis, which is the process by which cells make energy. I got it in 2005 (when I was in undergrad) because I wanted a science tattoo that represented something really important in biology, but less common than a DNA helix. One day while studying organic chemistry, I realized ATP hydrolysis fit the bill perfectly, so my tattoo is literally copied from my organic chem textbook.”
Affiliation: A graduate student in the Institute of Medical Science at the University of Toronto. She works at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Research: She is studying how the nervous system develops and how neurons function together to produce behaviour. For her studies, Tetyana uses the roundworm C. elegans because it has a simple nervous system, relatively complex behaviours and has many genes that are conserved in humans.
Tattoo inspiration: “Although it is not related to my area of research and is inspired by the famous science popularizer and astronomer, Carl Sagan (who said we're made of starstuff in the series Cosmos), it signifies my love for science. (My tattoo) “starstuff" refers to the fact that every atom in my body (and yours) at some point in the distant past was in a star. The star exploded, released the contents into the cosmos, and those atoms are then incorporated into new stars, planets and, on Earth at least, life, too. I think that that's very beautiful. It also reminds me that reality is more beautiful, and way cooler, than any man-made fairy tale. It also keeps me grounded: it reminds me that in 50-70 years, the atoms in my body will once again be freed to re-combine and make up other things, so I shouldn't sweat the small stuff and enjoy my life as much as possible. And finally, it reminds me of the power of the scientific method, which is the reason I love science, and I try to apply the critical thinking and analysis to the rest of my life (outside of the lab), as well.”
Affiliation: Graduate student in the Faculty of Forestry at the University of Toronto
Research: He works on forest management techniques that mitigate wildfire risk in the boreal forests of Canada.
Tattoo inspiration: “Great tattoos can be interpreted on multiple levels. This tattoo reflects the cyclical process of wildfire in Canada's boreal forests. Fire’s destructive force is also an agent of renewal, shaping landscapes spatially and temporally. A circle might also represent the network of feedback systems that exist in the environment. It serves as a reminder that humans and nature are inextricably connected, and our actions have real ecological consequences.”
Affiliation: A graduate studying cancer in the Department of Medical Biophysics at the University of Toronto.
Research: Shawn is investigating methods to track drugs as they travel from the bloodstream into a tumour. “A major problem with chemotherapy and newer drugs is that they often don't get to the cells they are designed to treat. So my lab tags them with contrast agents that can be detected with conventional medical imaging methods like CT and MRI to track where drugs go in tumours. Using this information we can hopefully understand the barriers to getting drugs to cancer cells and then design better agents in the future.”
Tattoo inspiration: “I have a tattoo that isn’t specifically about my science, but more about the process of getting a PhD. It’s a pile of textbooks piled underneath a grandfather clock. I got it about a year ago and it’s to remind me to get my PhD over with before I die of old age; I also look at it as a symbol of the path I chose (i.e. as long as time keeps going, I will be studying).”
Affiliation: Graduate student in the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at the University of Toronto and Centre for Biodiversity and Conservation Biology at the Royal Ontario Museum.
Research: Pamela is developing new ways to monitor polar bears. “My previous work involved evaluating Inuit interpretations of polar bear sex, age, and size based on footprint observation, as well as their estimates of ages of footprints. I did this by comparing diagnoses among Inuit hunters and elders, comparing diagnoses with “scientific” estimates of polar bear sex and size (through genetic sexing of hair samples associated with footprints and measurements of stride respectively), and comparing tracking techniques and hunting experience of hunters in relation to their diagnoses. My current research involves developing remote methods of estimating polar bear age by examining telomere lengths (protective repetitive sequences at the end of DNA) in polar bear tissue. Further, I am conducting interviews with Inuit elders for their traditional knowledge of polar bears and using footprints to monitor them.”
Tattoo: Pamela’s tattoo is Inuktitut for “polar bear.”
Affiliation: A graduate student with the physics and astronomy department at York University.
Research: Jesse studies very active black holes, known as quasars.
Tattoo inspiration: "The fun part of learning all this information about the universe is when I get to tell other people about it, and (more importantly) excite other people about it. The constellation Libra – my astrological sign – is a nice fusion of my passion for the science, and my passion exciting interest in astronomy."
Affiliation: A graduate student in Science and Technology Studies at York University.
Research: "My academic research focuses on the history of space medicine and explores American astronaut selection during the cold war." Jordan also works at Isis, the official journal of the History of Science Society, and is a weekly contributor to the Music and Stage sections of NOW Magazine.
Tattoo inspiration: "The tattoo design references a 1970s computer model invented by mathematician John Conway to support a particular understanding of complexity. To me, it serves as a reminder of the limits of scientific knowledge, and the cultural dimension inherent all ways of knowing and representing the world."
- Megan Ogilvie