Gifts: Holiday gift guide

by Julia Rosen
Friday, December 6, 2013

Finding gifts for that special scientist can be challenging: They are often more excited by ideas and specimens than material possessions, or they are already up to their ears in gadgets. But, luckily, shops across the Internet have caught on to the fact that science is hip and have launched whole lines of novel “geekery” for the scientifically inclined.

To jumpstart your holiday shopping, here are some creative gift ideas for present and future scientists of all ages.

Keeping time

What better way to bring the geologic timescale to field outings, classrooms and parties than on your back? offers a colorful timescale T-shirt (, complete with boundary dates and type-fossils of the Phanerozoic Era, available in a range of adult sizes for $20. Alternatively, if your scientist seems to operate at warp speed, consider getting them this geologic timescale clock where they can travel through 550 million years of time in just 60 minutes for $18. This and other geology clocks are available at

Need relief?

Geologists are suckers for rugged scenery and its expression on topographic maps. A range of products now bring relief to your home or office landscape. These include contoured memo pads for $6 ( and beautiful paper-cut topographic art of lakes, islands and continents ( Prices range from $5 and up, with most in the $40 range for an 8-inch x 10-inch design. You can also custom order a rendering of a specific location. Another option is custom laser-cut wooden fruit bowls representing your favorite mountain range ( For about $350, you choose the topographic site and the company builds it for you; the website successfully generated product models for half a dozen different sites around the U.S. that we tested, but the sky, or land, is the limit.

Cosmic design

Looking for a little cosmic inspiration for your home décor? Spruce up a window or Christmas tree with these planetary hand-blown glass ornaments ( With prices ranging from $25 to $75, you can get a miniature Mars, with its wrinkled crimson surface, a replica of Saturn, surrounded by bands of icy rings, or a custom version of your favorite exoplanet. For a softer touch, check out Geography Handmade’s beautiful pillowcases featuring images from NASA’s Landsat program and the Hubble telescope (, mostly in the $40 range.


Scientists appreciate the elegance of nature, so why not show it off? offers a range of striking geologic iPhone cases, boasting patterns from the intricate contours of quartz to collections of fossil trilobites (, with prices averaging $40. Academic Boutique offers science-themed jewelry for $20 and up, like DNA earrings and an onyx necklace containing the Pleiades constellation ( And, for those of you who have been clamoring for a scarf equivalent of the geologic map necktie (previously sold by the American Geosciences Institute, which publishes EARTH), here’s your answer: the seismology scarf, available for $22.50 ( Sciencephiles who get their kicks on the court will appreciate Nike’s new line of basketball shoes graced with “graphic, Doppler-esque depictions of inclement weather patterns.” The Weatherman line, featuring zoomed pixelated weather maps on the uppers, starts at $135 a pair (


Many scientists have their heads in books all day long, but probably not these varieties. For those who like history — both what happened and what could have been — check out the “Strange Maps: An Atlas of Cartographic Curiosities,” replete with maps by early explorers that turned out to be very wrong, and maps of things that never happened, like George Orwell’s “1984.” The book is available for $21 at (

For the mad scientist in your life, “The Hungry Scientist Handbook: Electric Birthday Cakes, Edible Origami, and Other DIY Projects for Techies, Tinkerers, and Foodies” might be a good choice. Designed for adult audiences, the $15 book explains how to make cryogenic martinis and glow-in-the-dark lollipops, among other kitchen science experiments. It is also available at (

For Kids (and the Young at Heart)

LEGO® my rover

Many engineers start out building with LEGOs®, and now a whole generation of future space engineers can be inspired building a LEGO® replica of the Mars Curiosity Rover. The model was developed by a LEGO® enthusiast, and includes a telescoping arm and full rocker-bogie suspension system for rough terrain.  The LEGO® rover received 10,000 supporters on the company’s CUUSOO site for crowd-sourced ideas and was chosen to go on to mass production in July 2013 (the inventor will receive some of the proceeds). Keep your radar on — it should be out on the LEGO® website by the new year (

Chemist crayons

Coloring with crayons is a classic children’s activity, and now it can be an educational one too. This set of color-coded labels gives the mineral and chemical compositions of every crayon, from orange oxidized iron to purple cesium flame to green barium nitrate ( As you draw, you and your student can learn how beautiful colors come from common elements, opening the door to the magic of science. A set of 48 labels costs $6 and works best with Crayola Crayons.

Science of the month

Want a gift that keeps on giving? Get your young scientist a subscription to Kiwi Crates, a monthly kit of interactive science activities to keep them outside and busy throughout the year. By guiding kids through growing a garden, starting a nature collection, and experimenting with homemade rockets and the mystery of water tension, award-winning Kiwi Crates provide creative activities to stimulate any curious child’s mind. You can also purchase individual kits for $19.99 directly from A year’s subscription costs $200.

Young mappers

Who needs a fancy GPS if you know how to read a map? With the $13 “The Geography Book,” your young explorer can try 38 fun, do-it-yourself activities that step through the basics of navigation, mapmaking and beyond. From reading the stars to games with a sidewalk chalk compass rose to projecting 3-D globes onto 2-D maps, the “Geography Book” is sure to challenge and entertain. “The Geography Book: Activities for Exploring, Mapping, and Enjoying Your World” is also available as an eBook (


Budding paleontologists will enjoy getting dirty with clever Dig-a-Dino games. The kit includes all the tools required to unearth the complete skeleton of a buried fossil Tyrannosaurus rex, Brachiosaurus or even a woolly mammoth. (Available from for $10.) After excavation, the dinosaur skeletons can be reconstructed and displayed on your shelf, just like at the museum.

Wear your geekiness with pride

Who doesn’t love a geeky geology- or science-themed T-shirt: “Geology Rocks,” “Coprolite Happens,” “Stop Plate Tectonics: 1-800-Futility” or “Gneiss Chert,” for example. Here are a few of our favorite T-shirt shops:

Mental Floss:




UnEarthed Tees:

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