Photo Gallery: UC Santa Cruz lecturer’s tattoos help her pass along her passion for chemistry
Tattoo Talk With Randa Roland
Mission Street Tattoo
Santa Cruz, California
On her left shoulder, Roland uses beautiful hemlock flowers placed alongside structures of the plant’s toxic coniine and γ-coniceine to emphasize that “when it comes to chemistry, you have to think about everything: What can possibly happen with what you’re handling, what you’re developing?”
Roland uses the “mole road map” tattoo to teach students about stoichiometry. “I always hammer the point with students, ‘You have to compare moles to moles. If you’re given mass, you follow this pathway; if you’re given volume and molarity, you follow that one; if you have an ideal gas, use the ideal gas law. Go any direction and leave where you need to.’ I think it’s so important that I tattooed it on my back.”
When Roland teaches, the tattoos of poisonous plants and their toxins located on her calves and shoulders draw a lot of attention. The woody nightshade on her right shoulder is one example. “It’s neat how these beautiful plants can kill if you’re not careful— and in pretty ghastly ways, too.”
The Haber-Bosch process, in which hydrogen and nitrogen react to produce ammonia, “is one of the most powerful stories of chemistry,” Roland says. The chemists “were trying to do something good, which they did, but there were also horrible consequences militarily and environmentally.” The dual nature of the process is illustrated with a lily of the valley, whose flowers transform into blood droplets below a nitroglycerin molecule.
“Aconitine [structure, bottom left], produced by Aconitum plants such as wolfsbane [left], is among the oldest known poisons. After severely nasty symptoms, death finally occurs as a result of respiratory paralysis or cardiac arrest.”
“Foxglove [right] contains digoxin and digitoxin. In the right dose, they can increase cardiac output. In the wrong dose, they can cause a host of terrible physical symptoms, including cardiac arrhythmias and death.”
For her strychnine tattoo [right], Roland replaced brand information with the chemical formula and molecular mass on a label design from an old strychnine bottle.
Monkshood [left] is another Aconitum plant that produces the toxin aconitine. The ‘queen mother of poisons,’ aconitine has found some anecdotal use as an antipyretic and analgesic, but the line is razor thin between therapeutic and toxic.
"What would your tattoo say?
What do you have that passion for?"