At least three scientists at the La Jolla Immunology Institute (LJI) have made their love of science very, very permanent! Some of their science-related tattoos commemorate research achievements, while others highlight appealing motifs found in nature.
Here, they share the meanings behind their scientific ink:
Keeping it simple
Eduardo Lucero Meza is a laboratory manager and research technologist in the Benedict Laboratory at LJI. His work gives scientists a window into the body’s response to pathogens such as cytomegalovirus (CMV) and Epstein-Barr virus. Lucero Meza has a large DNA double helix tattoo encircling his upper left arm. The simplicity of the tattoo underscores its meaning for Lucero Meza.
“The tattoo is just to remind me where I come from,” says Lucero Meza. “It amazes me how this relatively simple molecule has the ‘instructions’ to create a living thing. I love the fact that we all share almost the same set of genes, but the small differences in gene expression are what make everyone special.”
Suzy Alarcon is the director of the LJI Next Generation Sequencing Core. Her team has been instrumental in understanding how genetics play a role in responses to infectious diseases, autoimmune diseases, allergic reactions and more. Alarcon has two science-related tattoos.
The first is a small tattoo of an eel on her upper right arm. Alarcon says she’s fascinated by the biology of eels (they start life as translucent larvae!), but she also got the tattoo as a symbol. Her tattoo matches a friend’s, and they use “eel” as shorthand for “feelings.”
Alarcón’s second tattoo reflects her contributions to scientific research, particularly in sequencing. The tattoo covers Alarcón’s left arm and features a detailed DNA double helix surrounded by an intricate geometric motif. The design transitions to a botanical motif as it grows taller, reflecting Alarcón’s research with hops and other ingredients when she worked with taste and smell researchers at the Monell Center.
The piece is a work in progress as Alarcón gradually gets sections added by local tattoo artist Emily Paul. Alarcon was especially excited to sit in for Paul after learning she studied molecular biology before she started tattooing. “So she was really excited to work on it,” Alarcon says.
Celebrating important events
For LJI Assistant Professor Samuel Myers, PhD, tattoos are an opportunity to mark important milestones. Myers heads LJI’s Circuit Immunochemistry Laboratory, where his team uses techniques such as mass spectrometry to shed light on how cells respond to their environment and change their gene expression. [Learn more in the article “How to build a lab”]
Of his many tattoos, three highlight his career in science. His first tattoo shows an important part of the mass spec machine called the Orbitrap on a cartoon baby aka kewpie Kid Slug variant. He got the tattoo to celebrate his firstfirst author’s work in graduate school.
He also has a tattoo on his left arm of three dice with the numbers “415”. “This is the area code where I got my Ph.D. and the number of the building where I did my postdoctoral training,” Myers says.
Myers has one final science-related tattoo: a classic heart and dagger motif on his forearm. But he chose a pipette (a laboratory instrument) to replace the dagger. The meaning behind this? Myers happily admits it’s “just to look cool.”