Category: Science (Page 1 of 2)

These Shining Lives: ‘The Radium Girls’ by Kate Moore

I’m pretty inexperienced with non-fiction. I would rather enter a new world through books, instead of inserting myself into one that already exists. However, The Radium Girls grabbed my attention with its mildly horrifying accounts. Kate Moore’s narrative non-fiction debut is the story of the young women who painted glow in the dark watch dials with radium laced paint in the 1910s and 1920s. This era was the height of radium-based products that were believed to be cure for everything. There were advertisements for “radium-lined jars to which water could be added to make it radioactive.” It was deemed the “miracle drug.”

radium ad

Of course, we now know just how dangerous radium is.

Radium Girls centers around the young women who worked for a company called the United States Radium Corporation, or USRC. More specifically it centers around 10 or so of the women who painted watch and clock dials with radium paint. They were well paid and the positions were considered very glamorous. In their workspace, there was a darkroom where the women could check their work but they used it mostly to paint glow in the dark mustaches on their faces. In order to be more precise about their painting, they employed what was called the lip pointing technique, in which the girls would use their mouths to finely point the paintbrush bristles, dip in the paint, then lip point again. This would turn out to be small but deadly process.

radium deathMost, if not all, of the girls who worked for USRC started getting ill. Some had sore mouths, some had achy joints, some started walking with limps, and some showed all of the symptoms. Several of the women developed deadly sarcomas. Since radium affected each girl differently, the sources of their illness were misdiagnosed. Syphilis, “phossy jaw,” early onset arthritis, etc. were some of the main diagnoses. These “radium girls” were dying left and right, and USRC kept denying that their deaths were work-related. Finally, with the help of sympathetic doctors and committee agents, radium was finally pinpointed as the cause of these deaths and illnesses.

Cue the legal battles. These women wanted justice for how horribly they were treated; newspapers were calling them the “living dead.” USRC still denied they were involved, going as far as to blatantly lie and cover up medical exams given they themselves. I won’t tell you what the final judgment was, but it was a long and hard journey to get it.

As someone who hasn’t read a lot of nonfiction, I really enjoyed The Radium Girls. There’s an epilogue that delves into how radium and other radioactive elements started being handled, as well as the laws put into place to protect those who handle these elements regularly.

Nonfiction paperback picks for summer 2016

It’s that time of year. Spring is giving way to summer, school is letting out, and people are hitting the highway for vacations. It’s a perfect time to squeeze in some time for the reading that you’ve been meaning to do. I would like to recommend some nonfiction books, all out in paperback, that I think will be just the thing. They’re lightweight for packing, affordable, and hold up a lot better than your average e-reader when exposed to sand and water. So, with that in mind, let’s get to the recommendations…


[Both of these books were released in hardcover just last year, and they are both easy to read (and finish) books about cultural phenomena.]

Jacket (5)So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed by Jon Ronson

Ronson is the fey-voiced Welshman you might have heard on This American Life. He is also the author of The Pyschopath Test, among other books. Here he examines the concept of public shaming, specifically in the form of mass Twitter vigilantism. Whoever said “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can never hurt me” probably wasn’t anticipating the mass-volume payload delivery system that social media provides. Ronson thoughtfully examines the implications of a justice system that started with good intentions but is often used mercilessly against private citizens with momentary lapses of good judgment. Just keep reading past the section about Jonah Lehrer, his first case study (and not his most sympathetic).

Jacket (6)The Great Beanie Baby Bubble by Zac Bissonnette

Man, the 90s were a weird time, filled with unwarranted optimism and unchecked consumerism. The story revolves on its axis of Ty Warner, the founder and CEO of the company that produced the Beanie Babies, a pretty great toy maligned in our memory by the mania that accompanied our desire to “collect them all.” The whole tale is outrageous and engaging from start to finish and a valuable reminder of the foibles of human nature.


[Both of these books are not quite new in paperback and are a little longer (in part because they are augmented by fascinating footnotes), but they are absorbing narrative reads to keep your mind sharp over the summer.]

Jacket (7)Empire of Sin: A Story of Sex, Jazz, Murder, and the Battle for Modern New Orleans by Gary Krist

I must admit, I have always been in love with New Orleans. And what a fantastic subtitle this book has—if that doesn’t get you interested in history, what will? This account of New Orleans from the 1890s to 1920 weaves together the narratives of red-light district “mayor” Tom Anderson, conflicted brothel madam Josie Arlington, coronet player and jazz progenitor Buddy Bolden, a mysterious ax murderer, and many more. It explains how myth and reality, culture and class divide, hospitality and violence, have always existed in the city that care ostensibly forgot. It was only by coincidence that the beating heart of this tale, the red-light district Storyville, got its name from one subsequently-embarrassed city councilman (named Sidney Story) who was just trying to segregate sin from the more respectable parts of the city. But, trust me, after reading this whole book, you could wonder how the whole city isn’t called that.

Jacket (8)The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of Elements by Sam Kean

I’m not sure where you have to be in your chemistry education to be in the proper range between being able to understand it and also learning new things, but if you remember chemistry okay from high school, you should be fine. From his charming first anecdote about his mother spearing mercury droplets from broken thermometers to blowing my mind with how elements are made by stars in a process called stellar nucleosynthesis, this is a clear, exciting, and engaging look at the fundamental stuff the universe is made of that doesn’t forget to give things a human touch. Ask for a second bookmark to keep a place for the many wonderful footnotes you’ll be referring to constantly.


Jacket (9)Dispatches from Pluto: Lost and Found in the Mississippi Delta by Richard Grant

If you are reading a book blog from an independent book store in Jackson, Mississippi, I can only imagine that you might have heard of this book already. If you haven’t investigated this local literary phenomenon for yourself, I highly recommend that you do. Grant takes a probing, often hilarious, always empathetic, occasionally baffled look at life in the Mississippi delta. It’s got hunting, blues, and blood feuds mixed in with serious examinations of race, class, prisons, and education. It’s not so much that Grant discovers what native Mississippians don’t already know about our state; it’s how he elucidates the problems with a critical eye while still finding plenty of causes for celebration. It’s bound to be a Southern classic for a long time to come, and now is as good a time as any to read all about it for yourself.

Gifting the Perfect Book: Passionate Environmentalists and Animal Lovers

I love animals. All of them. The cute ones, the dangerous ones, the ones that sleep in our houses, and the ones that hide in remote rainforests, only ever exposing themselves to a few, lucky sets of human eyes.

I’m guessing you probably love animals too. Maybe you have a couple of dogs, cats, or goldfish at home; or maybe you take your nieces and nephews to the zoo when they’re in town; or maybe your computer wallpaper features a sleepy-eyed koala front and center (mine is a snow leopard). Regardless of how it manifests itself, a love for animals is shared by three out of every four Americans.

Jacket (1)Well, guess what… They’re all dying… or at least a lot them are. So says Elizabeth Kolbert in her Pulitzer Prize-winning book The Sixth Extinction.

Kolbert, author of the acclaimed Field Notes from a Catastrophe and a staff writer at the New Yorker since 1999, spent several years traveling the globe learning from scientists in various fields who study the changing environment and its effects on Earth’s animal and plant life. Her conclusion? By the end of the century, 20 to 50 percent of all species will be extinct.

The first several chapters of the book cover the five mass extinctions chronicled in the fossil record, including the most recent extinction that wiped out the dinosaurs 65 million years ago. From mollusks to mastodons, Kolbert handles the dearly departed species with delicacy, and presents the science behind their disappearance in a way that is easily digested for the layperson. She also describes the gradual acceptance of mass extinctions among scientists of the 18th and 19th centuries led by the likes of Cuvier and Darwin. The idea that an individual species could disappear from the earth entirely was hard to imagine only three hundred years ago. The idea that a force could eliminate species en masse was totally unthinkable.

Jumping to the present, Kolbert travels from Central America, where beloved frog species have disappeared in a matter of years, to the coast of Australia, where coral reefs home to thousands of species are receding due to increased ocean acidification. She introduces the idea that we are living in a new epoch called the Anthropocene in which human activity has become the dominant factor impacting the natural world. Since the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, scientists estimate that around one to five species went extinct each year. Fast-forward to the Anthropocene, and the rate is now more than a dozen species each day!

In one of the most memorable anecdotes of the book, Kolbert explains the arrival of the brown tree snake on the island of Guam via military ships in the 1940s. Devoid of any natural predators, the snake “ate its way through most of the islands native birds” lacking any natural defense from the foreign predator and reduced the island to one native species of mammal. “While it’s easy to demonize the brown tree snake, the animal is not evil; it’s just amoral and in the wrong place,” says Kolbert. It has done “precisely what Homo sapiens has done all over the planet: succeeded extravagantly at the expense of other species.”

For such grim content, the book remains surprisingly upbeat. From chapters entitled “Dropping Acid” to a detailed scene of a zookeeper sticking a gloved hand up the rectum of a rhino, Kolbert does her best to maintain a sense of humor throughout. Most importantly, she ends on an optimistic note, focusing on the successful efforts that can and are being done to save species. “People have to have hope. I have to have hope. It’s what keeps us going.”

Here’s to hoping that the koala on your screen will be around for generations to come.


Moonwalking with Einstein by Joshua Foer

moonwalking with einstein

Whether you’re young or old, we all know the frustration that ensues when memory fails us. It’s easy to find techniques on how to improve memory, but while researching for an article on memory competitions, Joshua Foer decided to formally train his memory and see if he could actually win the USA Memory Championships.

Moonwalking with Einstein is Foer’s narrative as he trains for the competition, learning ancient techniques that Cicero and medieval scholars used to memorize entire books. I found myself fascinated with Foer’s efforts while also learning about what memory is, what can go wrong with it, how we can improve as well as a history of memorization techniques.

This is book you’ll pass on to family and friends, and don’t be surprised if you end up putting yourself and others to a memory challenge. Joshua Foer did better than he ever imagined; he memorized 52 cards in one minute and 40 seconds, winning the 2006 “speed cards” event while setting a new record for the USA Memory Championship.

The Sports Gene by David Epstein

sports geneDo you remember the star athlete at your high school? You know the one who excelled at every sport with ease? Maybe he or she was a natural. Or was it just disciplined training? For as long as humans having been competing, we’ve been debating nature vs. nurture. David Epstein, senior writer for Sports Illustrated, takes a look at both sides of the debate in The Sports Gene.

Since the sequencing of the human genome, scientists have been able to better understand the relationship between biological endowments and athletic training. This research sheds light on why the discipline to train may be innate and the lightning fast reaction of a baseball batter may be learned. Epstein also explores sensitive questions concerning race and gender. Are black athletics naturally better runners? Should males and females be separated in athletic competitions? Should kids be genetically tested for athletic ability? And could this genetic testing determine who might be more at risk for injury?

This book is a resource for educators and parents as well as a captivating read for the casual reader. Epstein has pulled together scientific research, interviews and anecdotes in such a practical and engaging way. It seems we finally have a basis to really understand athleticism in a holistic way. We will never have a definitive answer as to why one exceeds at sports and another is unremarkable, but Epstein’s book points to the potential that we all have.

Birds of a Feather

The last couple weeks, I have been flying through books…literally. When it came time to write this blog, I thought I would share with you my latest flights of fancy:


Andrea Barrett’s newest novel, Archangel, is constructed of short stories spanning the late 19th and early 20th century, each a diorama of the scientific atmosphere.

Henrietta Akins, a small-town school teacher, enrolled in a natural-science course off the coast of Massachusetts, collects barnacles and sea anemones and is introduced to Darwin’s new theory of evolution. Constantine Boyd, visits his eccentric uncle for the summer–a scientist knee deep in evolutionary experiments. Blind catfish propagate the pond, cross-pollinated and grafted plants march through the orchard, and from the neighbor’s farm, an airplane buzzes and tries to catch flight. As the stories progress, science and invention rupture the known reality–what is known, and what could be known are only one discovery away.



Thor Hanson’s Feathers: The Evolution of a Natural Miracle couldn’t be more perfect to pair with Archangel. Hanson describes everything you could ever want to know about feathers: from the first fossilized record (it’s pretty rare for delicate feathers to survive the heat and pressure of fossilization) to how exactly they keepan animal in the air.

west with the night

I have a customer to thank for introducing me to Beryl Markham’s wild life in West with the Night. It is the stuff of a good story–raised in Kenya by her father in the early 20th century, she hunted wild boar with a spear (as a child, I might add), trained racing horses, flew elephant hunting reconnaissance as an African bush pilot, and was the first woman to fly solo across the Atlantic East to West. West with the Night was so good, I don’t even care if she made it all up.

The memoir is not a tell-all (none of her affairs or marriages or even her son make an appearance) rather Markham carefully pieced together a finely wrought coming-of-age story of a girl in the last days of a wild Eastern Africa.


The newest collection of British poet laureate, Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry isn’t so much about bees, but about our own bee-ish nature. It is fair to say that there is a poem in here for everyone–a sonnet on an English examination in Shakespeare, a handful of haiku, and even bee Christmas carol. Carol Ann is beyond a doubt one of the wittiest poets–her lines always seem to have  a bit of a sting.

Here are my bees,
brazen, burs on paper,
bessotted; buzzwords, dancing
their flawless, airy maps.

Been deep, my poet bees,
in the parts of flowers,
in daffodil, thistle, rose, even
the golden lotus; so glide,
gilded, glad, golden, thus–

wise–and know of us:
how your scent pervades
my shadowed, busy heart,
and honey is art.

Millsaps Reads The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks

patrick hopkinsCan you believe that students will be starting college next month? At Millsaps College all incoming freshman are required to read one book.  Professor Patrick Hopkins of Millsaps gives us an introduction to this year’s pick.

immortal life of henrietta lacksThis fall, the incoming freshman class of Millsaps College will be reading The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks, by Rebecca Skloot. This surprising bestseller is a journalistic examination of the case of a poor black tobacco farmer with cancer whose unusual cancer cells changed the history of medicine and raises fascinating questions about medical ethics. In 1951, Lacks went to Johns Hopkins Hospital to have an abdominal lump examined. Johns Hopkins was the only hospital in the general area that treated black patients. Physicians found a tumor in Lacks’ cervix and sent a sample to the pathology lab. The cells eventually were given to a researcher who found that they had an unusual property—unlike most cells, which died after a few days in culture, these cells would stay alive and grow. They were essentially immortal. As such, they could be used in laboratories for many different kinds of experiments, be perpetually reproduced from the initial sample, and easily shipped and sold.

With this new in vitro cell research medium, a revolution in medical research began. Named HeLa, after Lacks, the cells were put into mass production, sold and shipped, and became crucial in research involving the development of the polio vaccine, cancer, AIDS, radiation poisoning, chemical toxicity, and viral vector treatments. Not surprisingly, the value of HeLa cells translated into patents, careers, and lots and lots of money. Henrietta Lacks, however, died in the same year she went to Johns Hopkins, never gave permission for developing her tumor cells, and was never told about the fate of her unique cells. Her family didn’t know about Lacks’ huge influence on medicine until many years later.

Below: Author Rebecca Skloot interviews Henrietta Lacks’ cousin Cliff Garrett in Virginia, 2009.

rebecca skloot talking w Henrietta's cousin

While an intriguing tale of medicine, Lacks’ story obviously also brings up questions of privacy, racism, control of one’s body, and profit. However, the questions the case raises are not quite as simple as many people seem to think. Upon first hearing about Lacks and HeLa cells, it’s not uncommon for people to react by saying that Lacks surely should have been asked for permission to use her cells, that Lacks surely should have been paid for her cells, and that Lacks’ family surely should be getting a portion of the profit from all that HeLa money. But is it that simple?

Below: Henrietta Lacks with her husband David Lacks.

henrietta lacksIt was 1951. Rules and expectations for participants in medical research were just beginning to be debated and it would take years before the norm in research was that patients should be asked for permission to use their biological specimens for research. Would it surprise you to find out that even today, in 2013, a patient with cells as valuable as Lacks would be no more likely to share in profit from those cells than she? To find out that cells could be immortalized and patented and make millions of dollars but the patient receive nothing? To find out that patients entering research studies are explicitly told they won’t make any money from any commercial products their cells might result in?

That’s the way it works. But here’s the interesting thing—the thing that our students will hopefully discuss and consider. If society were to say that a patient could sell, or lease, or profit-share in her cells, wouldn’t that mean that she owned her cells? Wouldn’t that mean that she owned her body? Perhaps you would say “Of course she does. Who else would own it?” But now think of the implications of the idea that we own our bodies or that anyone does. Ownership means our bodies are property. As property, our bodies would then fall under all the traditional legal and moral rules governing other property. We could sell our bodies. Buy others’ bodies. Inherit bodies. Do we want to say that you could sell your kidney? Buy someone’s corneas? Trade your Braves tickets for a bone graft?

Below: Deborah Lacks seeing her mom’s cells for the first time.

deborah lacks seeing her mom's cells for the first timeThese consequences might strike you as far- fetched, but why would they if we said bodies are property? A major point of property is to give us the power to engage in commerce. Making our bodies and its parts our property would be a huge legal shift. And in fact, this idea has been tested in the courts. In the 1990 case of Moore v. Regents of the University of California, the California Supreme Court dealt with just such a case as Lacks. John Moore was being treated for leukemia. Some cells were excised. They were immortalized by researchers. They became a major commercial success. Moore found out later what had happened and sued for a portion of the profit. The court ruled that he had no right to any money because (among other legal issues) establishing a precedent of people owning body parts would be a dangerous step toward creating a free market for human body tissue.

In addition to social consequences, we can also ask what makes anything our property in the first place. The answer is usually that we bought it, were given it, or made it ourselves. But Lacks and Moore didn’t buy these cells. They certainly weren’t given the cells. They didn’t even really make the cells. Yes, they ate food and drank water, but the cells just grew automatically. In fact, in both cases the reason they went to a physician was precisely to try to destroy those cells. This kind of reasoning is related to the very recent US Supreme Court case of Association For Molecular Pathology v. Myriad Genetics, Inc. The court ruled in that case that a company could not patent human DNA because they just discovered it — nature created it. However, a company could patent synthetic human DNA, because in fact the company did create that.

The case of Henrietta Lacks, then, is no simple morality tale. Read critically, it makes us ask, “What really is fair? What really is the right thing to do? What should be owned and what should not? What should be sold and what should not? What really went wrong, if anything? What should be done now?”

And that’s exactly why our students are reading it.

Written by Patrick D. Hopkins

Professor of Philosophy (Millsaps College)

Affiliate Faculty (Center for Bioethics and Medical Humanities at the University of Mississippi Medical Center)


ParadoxParadox has been on my nightstand for a while now. I picked it up originally because it looked exactly like the kind of book that would capture my imagination as a kid. I loved science books — especially science books that taught me something unexpected, something unbelievable, something that seemed more like science fiction. I loved learning about science because it set the rules for what was possible — and then hinted at those things that seemed impossible but could possibly be.

I loved books about stars and planets. I loved books about atoms and quarks and photons. I loved books about how animals communicate. I loved books about how planes fly. I loved books about black holes and white dwarfs and quasars. And really what I loved about all of those books is that they confirmed what my child’s mind knew must be true — that the world is a mysterious place, not at all boring or predictable, something to be explored and wondered at.

And then, for a while, I found the world boring and predictable. It wasn’t cool to talk about quarks or homing pigeons or the concept of infinity. And then I met my wife, and found to my great amazement that someone else was intrigued and astounded by the world we live in. And I started reading books about science and nature and the world again.

This is a book for people who see the world this way. Jim Al-Khalili has written a book for people who are not embarrassed to be curious, to wonder at the world, to marvel at the mysteries around us.

The title is, if not deceptive, then at least misleading. The common philosophical meaning of “paradox”  is something that appears true but, upon further examination, cannot logically be so. What Al-Khalili intends here is the opposite, something that seems patently false, ridiculous, impossible, yet from observation must be true. His task is to bridge that gap.

Paradox begins with the classics: the Monty Hall paradox, Zeno’s paradoxes, Maxwell’s demon, and a few others. As Al-Khalili moves forward through the history of science, he covers Einstein’s Theory of Special Relativity, the time-travel “can you go back in time and kill your own grandfather” paradox, Schrödinger’s Cat, and Fermi’s Paradox. In each chapter Al-Khalili dissects the apparent paradox into component parts that are more easily understood, and then walks the reader through the explanation, making what at first appears absurd finally make sense.

I recommend this book for curious people.

Imagine: How Creativity Works by Jonah Lehrer

“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” -Picasso

For those striving to create in any capacity of life, it is often helpful to track down a good book on the particular topic by someone experienced. I’ve blogged about books on creative writing, and underscored the fact that plenty of books on the topic retrace the same territory again and again, making the reading of an essential and exceptional book on the subject more of a necessity. But even after owning and reading a remarkable book on a creative subject, there is no substitute for sitting down and doing the work, or, as Annie Dillard says in The Writing Life, letting the blank page teach you.

Still, even when we are before the blank page, canvas, or even a business meeting yet to begin, much more is going on internally than we realize. Being a good steward of our own mental faculties and/or of those with whom we work during a project is crucial for creativity to take place. We can attempt to create all day long; and again, a book on our particular area of focus is often helpful, but such books rarely address the minutiae, details, and difficulties that take place in the work of creating. Jonah Lehrer’s Imagine: How Creativity Works fills this gap in terms of books about creativity.

Quite possibly my favorite book of 2012, Imagine is a book that reads so well I felt like I was watching a good documentary. Make no mistake about it: this book is for everyone. From the businessperson to the theater director, writer to computer programmer, Imagine weaves together what all of us have in common as people trying to do something original. Lehrer highlights the fact that there is no special creative gene, but that our creative capacity is something we are all born with and that many of us leave untapped.

In terms of our untapped potential, Imagine is a book on the neuroscience of creativity, but fear not laypeople, Lehrer is such a good writer and his prose so clean and lucid that the chapters on the brain are utterly fascinating. Alongside the parts about the brain, Lehrer interviews and researches a great number of people from all walks of the creative life: Bob Dylan, Yo-Yo Ma, surfer Clay Marzo, and the creative team of Pixar to name a few, making Imagine an expansive and encompassing look at the work of creativity.

One thing you will learn is the necessity of mental blocks, and how relaxation or focusing on another topic altogether allows for an insight. For me, if I am stuck on a story that just won’t work, I’ll break out my manual on auto repair and mess around with the tubes, valves, and belts on my car. When we are trying to create, working on something completely unrelated to our project allows us to make a connection that we otherwise would not have made when we stick close to the subject that is giving us a hard time.

Lehrer shows how some companies urge their employees to take breaks involving napping, ping-pong, or even a stint in another department unrelated to their own in order to give them space from their work. Doing this allows room for necessary connections and insights. For example, those employees struggling with computer programming would be moved to a department such as model trains. To encounter something so completely different from one’s area of expertise provides a different perspective. We see how model trains work, and so we apply those principles to our area of expertise, which often leads to a connection we did not see previously because the characteristics of our subject did not allow for such a window.

Lehrer covers a whole spectrum of matters in the work of creativity. I hope you will purchase this book and apply it to your own life. We are all here to build and to create, and Lehrer has provided a window by which to see our potential and to step into the necessary actions to cultivate our creative drives. I’m not sure I’ve read a better book this year.  -Ellis

Enjoy Jonah Lehrer’s book trailer on Imagine: How Creativity Works.

Read more. Check out Jonah’s website:

Science Ink

Dear Listener,

I recently stumbled into a book club with my coworker Ellis.  Although we are still waiting to discuss it, we both read Outer Dark by Cormac McCarthy.  Every time I read Cormac McCarthy I go into a non-fiction marathon.  After reading any book by Cormac McCarthy, I can’t really stomach fiction for a while.  It is after reading McCarthy when I read culture books and science books and history books.  I began by ordering a book about time travel and a book about fascism.  As I waited I pushed through John Jeremiah Sullivan’s Pulphead.  (You can see Anna’s blog on Pulphead here.)  It was then I stumbled upon the recent book by science writer Carl Zimmer called Science Ink.  The synopsis on the back cover is such:

In 2007, writer Carl Zimmer began noticing that more and more scientists were sporting science tattoos.  Fascinated, he reached out via his blog, “The Loom,” and began to receive a steady stream of tattoo images, along with compelling personal stories about the designs.  In Science Ink, Zimmer has collected more than 300 of these thought-provoking tattoos.  Expanding on the stories of each one, he deftly explores the science behind the ink and reveals the passions and obsessions of science lovers around the world.

I think my interests in the book have changed.  I first opened it up to flip through it, curious of the tattoos. In that sitting, I just scanned the tattoos, which are all incredibly interesting.  It was my second trip through the book that really grabbed my interest.  I realized that most of these people are brilliant.  With tattoos.  Not vagrants or criminals, but scientists.  What is more interesting is how Zimmer “expands on the stories.”  While reading through it, he is actually covering hundreds of subjects that relate to science and mathematics.  Here is an example from one of my favorites:

Ben Ewen-Campen, a graduate student in evolutionary biology at Harvard, sports a “DNA ladder.”  The ladder is produced by electrophoresis, a technique used to analyze DNA molecules.  The tattoo is made with black-light-sensetive ink, glowing in the ultraviolet just like real DNA in some electrophoresis kits.  “The fact that it looks like a barcode from a futuristic dystopic society is an accident,” he writes.

Most of the tattoos are creatively beautiful.  Even without color, they are so interesting, they are still beautiful.  A  tattoo of fulvic acid is another one of my favorites:

I got this tattoo as an homage to the pain of my graduate work,” writes Corey Ptak.  “It’s a model of fulvic acid, which is a representation of natural organic matter in the soil.  I work with this molecule for my grad work, and I figured I might as well get it etched into my skin so I can look at it and say, ‘Well, ate least it hurt less that grad school at Cornell.'”

A tattoo of a dodo belongs to Cecilia Hennsessy who is working on her Ph.D. in wildlife population genetics.  The H2O molecule belongs to Jerry O’Rourke measures and predicts stream flow.  Dirac’s equation belongs to Melinda Soares who studied physics at the University of California, Ssanta Cruz.  Anastasia Gonchar is getting her Ph.D. in chemical physics at the Fritz Haber Institute of the Max Planck Society in Germany, and she has a tattoo of pi orbitals.  It seems like every entry is like this.  Some of the science is very advanced, but much like tattoos, Zimmer holds no pretension.

Whether you consider every person with a tattoo a vagrant or a criminal, maybe they’re just a scientist.  Or a doctor.

by Simon

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