Cool science gifts: 2016 edition

Cool science gifts: 2016 edition

2014 and 2015 on the blog).


There are some really cool pieces of tech out there for gifting, but how about something that lets you play scientist out in the field? Since science is all about observation and the best camera is the one you carry with you, clip-on lenses make an excellent upgrade for out in the field. Olloclip is a popular choice for iPhones, with easily interchangeable lenses that cover fish-eye, selfie and wide-angle, in addition to macro versions for 10x and 15x viewing. Photojojo also covers Android phones, with standard photography lenses that magnetically snap on to a metal disc that glues to your phone.

Want more power? Turn your phone into a microscope and explore the microscopic world with Blips. A Kickstarter project for SmartMicroOptics reached €100,000 within 13 days. Originally the team offered a basic set comprising extremely thin and reusable macro (10x) and micro (up to 100x) lenses that stuck over the smartphone lens. The rapid success led to an ultra-lens set complete with smartphone microscopy stage and light source. After shipping the initial rewards, the company is accepting pre-orders on its website for a variety of packages.

Or maybe you could try the DIY version yourself over the holidays!

House and home

Interior decor and art buffs get a mention in this year’s gift guide, with wall art, table art and tech art in various guises.

The Vexed Muddler has a vibrant and geeky chips and dips plate in the form of a ceramic eukaryotic cell platter. The cell nucleus holds the dip, leaving room to scatter veggies, chips and other snacks among the organelles in the cytoplasm. Food safe, and a surefire conversation starter. Trilobite Glassworks carries all sorts of beautiful wares for the house, from tapeworm tree decorations to angler fish suncatchers. Consider serving a festive luncheon on a Chagas disease dinner plate set to make your guests feel at home.

il_570xn-1121469231_t8ooFor some wall art, check out artologica on Etsy for a seasonal wreath: a circle of “microbial merriment” containing a sealed watercolour rendition of petri dish life. For something larger, choose a series of nine glass petri dishes mounted on an aluminum sheet that show filamentous soil bacteria at work.

In addition to tardigrade canvas prints and jewel beetle throw pillows, you can also get mobile with Glendon Mellow’s fantastical trilobite paintings on cases for iPhone, Mac and Samsung devices. Mellow, who blogs at Scientific American’s Symbiartic, also fills 2017 with inspiring art every month with a customizable Flying Trilobite collection calendar.


Another way to take #sciart everywhere you go is having it printed on a T-shirt; Mellow’s shop offers designs printed on a range of options including (oh yes!) fitted T-shirts for women—no more making do with the less-than-flattering traditional round necks or oversize teen wear!

Nerdy Natal Knots has an emission line spectra scarf to keep your neck warm, and the awesomely punny porcupyne T-shirt brings organic chemistry to life—both are available on Etsy.


Science-themed jewelry is very popular, especially on Etsy where there is a whole team of biologists translating their love of science into your love of geeky stuff. Editorial assistant Amy Haagsma suggests taking a peek at Michelle Mach’s shop. She recommends the atom earrings, pi bracelet and caffeine molecule earrings, for the coffee lover in your life.

Moving into mass spectrometry, Ontogenie, a.k.a. Kimberly Falk, offers many science-themed pieces, including a mass spectrum pendant and bracelet. Working with 3-D printing technology, Falk makes the bracelet in nylon; she casts the pendant in bronze, brass or sterling silver from a printed wax template. Her work is available on Etsy as well as her own website.

It is also available on the Shapeways website, a cornucopia of 3-D printed awesomeness. Beware: it’s easy to get lost on this site for hours, but it might be just the place to check for more geeky gifts.


The best thing about northern hemisphere winter holidays is hibernation—settling down next to a cozy fire with plenty of eats, a mug of hot chocolate and enough books or puzzles to last the week.

However, before you zone out from the online world, zoom over to Apopo to sponsor an African giant pouched rat to sniff out mines in farmland or tuberculosis in sputum samples. They work faster and more efficiently than humans and are still making a difference in some of the most deprived areas on this planet. Check out the story we ran previously: “Rats! What do I buy for Christmas?”

LIQNYC makes stellar hard candies (pardon the pun) with cosmic solar system and outer space lollipops featuring out-of-this-world designs. If you prefer to stay on this world, try the geology agate series, or maybe suck on some germ theory instead.

How about an Infinity Puzzle? Yes—they do exist. Design studio Nervous System has various sizes, where the puzzle pieces go on and on and on in seemingly endless permutations. The concept is inspired by “topological spaces that continuously tile,” meaning that there is no finish point to these activities.

Once you’ve exhausted the puzzling, turn to the new Compound Interest book Why Does Asparagus Make Your Wee Smell? for enlightenment. Chemistry teacher and science communicator Andy Brunning, who creates infographics to explain the mysteries of science, wrote this book to show “the weird and wonderful chemistry hiding in everyday foods and drinks.” Find out more about the author in this interview from the American Chemical Society.


If it’s more of a winter theme you want, then step inside Jenni Desmond’s new book on the Arctic. The Polar Bear (introduced here on the excellent Brain Pickings blog by Maria Popova) takes the reader on an exploration of what it’s like to live in snow and ice, showing how well the animal is adapted to a harsh environment. The beautiful and bewitching illustrations are also a good wake-up call to why it is so important to preserve this vanishing world by fighting climate change.

A sobering note to end on perhaps, but then 2016 has been a little more than unsettling.

Watch for our upcoming post on science gifts for children to see how to encourage the next generation in a love for science against the tides of institutionalized ignorance.

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