When my 18-year old self walked into a tattoo parlor on South Street in Philadelphia, I had no idea I was joining a movement of tattooed scientists, embellishing their bodies with symbols of their passions. My little chickadee, a bird that continues to fascinate me despite its commonness, now inspires jabs of "put a bird on it" thanks to Portlandia, but it is more than that: it's a stand-in for my love of birding, my appreciation of ornithological beauty, and constant wonder at even more mundane life.

A group of college students studying at the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts caught ahold of the trend, and have put together an audio piece featuring scientists, the tattoos hiding under their lab coats, and the underlying scientific passion that inspires them. They got the idea because one of the group members, my sister Emily Waters, had recently joined the ranks of tattooed scientists.

"I just got my first tattoo: a big plant stem cross section above my knee," she says. "I was on the lookout for a cool topic for the radio piece, and it was then that I stumbled across Carl Zimmer's blog and got the idea for the radio project."

Science writer Carl Zimmer has been collecting science tattoos for years at his Science Tattoo Emporium on his blog, and last month published a book, Science Ink, featuring the extensive collection. The radio piece, embedded below, includes an interview with Zimmer who espouses his thoughts on why scientists get tattoos about their science.

Also featured are testimonies from four tattooed scientists: SciCurious, a biomedical postdoc and fellow Scientific American blogger; Josh Drew, a marine biology postdoc; Amanda Gallinat, a full-time bird bander and researcher (and my college roommate); and Nathaniel Comfort, a science historian at John Hopkins School of Medicine.

Listen to their fabulous radio piece below.


The video features a song from the fabulous Philadelphia band The Tough Shits, which you can hear in-full on muxtape.