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Holiday Gift Guide 2014: The Science Geek

Unfortunately, they just don’t make science kits like they used to. I mean, it’s pretty hard to find uranium ore for children to tinker with nowadays. But thankfully, we are in the middle of some kind of nerd renaissance, where science and scientists are enjoying the same kind of attention that other geekdoms have enjoyed. It’s easier than ever to find a sciencey gift for that curious friend, family member, or child. You can get everything from sand that acts like silly putty to a plant that “dies” when you touch it (and comes back to life!). Here are some gifts for the science geek that won’t just sit on a shelf:


Smart Mass Kinetic Sand: Let’s start with something that you’ve probably played with a bit before: kinetic sand. Perfect for any office desk, this is a tin of regular silica sand that has been infused with a small amount of synthetic polymer. This polymer changes the composition of the sand so that it no longer acts like the castle-making material you’re used to. Instead, kinetic sand acts like a kind of non-Newtonian fluid — it will “flow” when no force is applied to it but will bunch up like Play-Doh once you start messing with it. Your sand castles will get much more sciencey.


The Nerdist Beaker Coffee Mug: The only thing better than coffee is the perfect amount of coffee. With the Nerdist coffee mug styled after a laboratory beaker, you can start experimenting with just how much caffeine your metabolism can process. Heck, I’d even start labeling it. “15oml — Out of bed.” “300ml — Shaking hands.” “350ml — See the face of God.” It’s also the perfect way to start quantifying the amount of coffee it takes to send you to the bathroom (though we have no idea why it does that).


Makey Makey Kit: You can read as many textbooks as you want, but learning by doing is like a course in itself. That’s where the Makey Makey Kit comes in. This programmable controller can basically turn anything into input. Want to control Super Mario with pieces of putty? Go for it. Decided to turn some bananas into piano keys? Do it. Makey Makey is a printed circuit board that has a microcontroller running Arduino, which allows it to interface between your computer (via USB) and physical objects (via alligator clips). Start doing.


3Doodler 3D Printing Pen: You’ve probably seen the GIFs like I have and didn’t believe them, but 3D printing pens are here and they are an amazing way to take art to another dimension, literally. Though these devices can be a little pricey (~$100), the infinitely variable nature of 3D printing means that your creations will only be limited by your imagination. It’s like how we always wished our mom’s hot glue gun would work, only way better.



My First Lab Duo-Scope Microscope: Gadgets and novelties are great, but sooner or later there’s real science to be done. With this decently-priced starter microscope, you can recapitulate the great discoveries of our time. Scoop up a bit of pond water and examine the teeming ecosystem inside. Take a swab from your cheek to see where exactly those folks on CSI are getting your DNA from. Ranked the #1 starter microscope this year, it comes with its own light source, up to 400x magnification, slides, ink, and everything you need to start exploring the microscopic.


Bare Conductive electric paint: Learning about circuits and circuitry has gone wireless. Company Bare Conductive has come up with a formula for a conductive, non-toxic, easy-to-apply paint that can carry a current. When connected to a small battery, the paint lets electricity flow to small LEDs and other electronic devices. By doing away with wires, this electric paint really opens up the creative space, joining art and science in a way that is easily accessible. You could even put the paint on fabric for a dazzling holiday sweater!


Sick Science! Slick Tricks: Look, we all know that traditional science kits can be a bit, well, boring. That’s what the next two gifts hope to change. Get the kids interested in science with these “Sick Science” kits from Steve Spangler Science. These physics-based demonstrations, like psychologist Richard Wiseman’s 10 Bets You’ll Never Lose series, are meant to amaze with the quirks and curiosities of science. The kit comes with video explanations, links to follow, and reading material that doesn’t just teach kids how to trick, but also what is going on in each trick, whether that be surface tension or air pressure. It’s magic made real, and it’s just as amazing.


Sick Science! Fast Physics: This additional Sick Science kit comes along with all of the same educational potential as the last, but “Fast Physics” hopes to capitalize on the recent virality of some awesome physical phenomena. Remember when the Internet discovered that metal beads will pull themselves out of a beaker? Learn why! Seen those GIFs of “kinetic sculptures”? Make your own. These are science kits that I’d actually buy, I and don’t even have kids.


Euler’s disk: This desktop toy is the scientist’s disco ball, only with a lot more math. In the 18th century, Leonhard Euler discovered a weird phenomena that was seemingly a paradox. A disk spinning on a slightly curved plate would dramatically speed up (and get louder) as it came closer and closer to stopping. It’s hard to describe — you have to watch it for yourself:

While this might be more of a home office toy (that loud laser sound might get a bit annoying after the…first time), it’s still a fascinating combination of math and physics you can stare at while totally not ignoring work.

112014_SciGuide_ZombiePlantZombie Plant Growing Kit: This is Mimosa pudica — the “touch me not” plant. While some plants grow thorns or concentrate poisons within them to ward off hungry herbivores, Mimosa pudica has evolved an interesting response to predation: actual retreat. In response to even a brief brush, the plant will retract its leaves in the hope of preserving itself. It seemingly dies then comes back to life, hence the “zombie” designation. Grow one at your desk!

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