Carl Zimmer presents new book on scientists and tattoos

For more questionable meteor tattoos, stop by Frankford Hall (1210 Frankford Ave) on Sunday at 2 p.m. For a complete list of Philadelphia Science Festival events, visit

On Sunday, science writer Carl Zimmer will be at Frankford Hall with body artist Mandy Sauler to talk about his new book, “Science Ink,” which collects images of and musings on scientists’ geeky tattoos — as well as what happens biologically when you get that tribal arm band inked on your bicep. We caught up with Zimmer to talk about the book and whether there’s any ink in his future.

What set you off in search of science tattoos? Did someone come to you with a science tattoo that they had? Did you spot one in the wild?

I spotted one in the wild. There’s a neuroscientist that I know named Bob Datta at Harvard. I happened to see that he had a tattoo on his shoulder that was of DNA. I asked him about it and he explained to me how he had encoded his wife’s initials in the sequence, and I thought to myself, “Wow. This is a new kind of tattoo that I haven’t really appreciated before.” And I thought it was funny that I knew him fairly well and I had no idea that he had this tattoo on him, and so I started to wonder if other scientists were hiding tattoos as well.

Have you found that any fields of science are more well represented than the others?

Certainly mathematicians and physicists are well represented, partly just because an equation like E=mc2 is pretty straightforward for a tattoo artist. For whatever reason, I didn’t have that many geologists or earth scientists. I don’t know what that means. I’ve brought this up and geologists have objected loudly that there are plenty of them with tattoos, but for some reason not many of them have been sending them to me.

Has doing this project inspired you to get any ink?

Maybe someday. I’m not going out of my way to get one, but I’m not ruling it out. I really like the idea of a tattoo that encodes your loved one’s initials. Instead of DNA, I would probably do proteins, because their building blocks are represented by a single letter and I could spell out my wife’s name if I did it that way. A tiny little protein would do the job.

Geeks in the Hall

This isn’t the first time nerds have taken over Frankford Hall. The Fishtown bar has been hosting Nerd Nite, a monthly lecture series that combines science, technology and giant steins of German beer. Their motto? “Be there and be square.” Visit for all your scrunchy-glasses-face needs.


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