Everybody likes getting a thoughtful, warmly intended gift. For this year’s winter holiday season, put a sparkle in your favorite STEM enthusiast’s eye with one of these science-minded picks. Whether you have a bench scientist, a programmer or a science fiction lover in mind, here we try to find a little something for everyone.
First things first: labware for around the house
Physicists, it’s been said, are merely machines for converting coffee into theorems, but why let the academics have all the fun? This elegant walnut and brass pour-over coffee stand ($189) looks exactly like an elegant ring stand with a glass funnel, because it is a ring stand with a funnel — except that you can use this one to make coffee at your desk and not have to worry about what the 9AM freshman chemistry lab section spilled on it. It reminds me of Gale Boetticher’s mathematically ideal coffee-brewing rig. The included Hario V60 glass dripper fits into the ring, and the ring itself can of course be adjusted to match the height of your mug, flagon or beaker. Aesthetically, it looks like something you might find in a steampunk lab, assuming steampunk labs have much better sources of funding than their real-world counterparts. While Gale’s vacuum-brewing rig has been the subject of much loving scientific debate, you can make a rich, fine cup of coffee using the pour-over method. Unlike a French press, too, this rig can make coffee just as fast as you can pour water through the grounds. Filter paper circles not included, but you can probably find a new box in the chemical stock room.
Following the theme of using lab glass for coffee, which everyone should already know is actually a terrible idea, here’s a mug that looks just like a beaker. It comes in two sizes, 350mL ($5.99) and 900mL ($7.99), and it’s made from tempered borosilicate glass, just like real labware. Maybe you need a modestly priced gift for a Secret Santa exchange. Maybe you want a beaker mug labeled in the metric system. Maybe, like me, you just think borosilicate glass is superior to most others for use in your own secret science lair. No matter what your reasoning, this lab beaker mug lets you drink coffee in style. Bonus: it stands a good chance of making your principal investigator double-take.
It is said that in ancient Persia, to be sure of an argument’s value, thinkers would debate it twice: once sober, and once drunk. If it stood up to debate both ways, it passed. For those 21 and over, what better way to get your scientific drank on than out of tiny beakers or culture tubes? No sense shelling out for a kitschy giftware “test tube shots” set you know will break when you can get real lab glass for way cheaper. These are actual borosilicate lab glass, whether you prefer to take your shots from test tubes or beakers. Each test tube ($11.19 for six) holds 36 mL or 1.27 fl oz. Each 25mL beaker ($4.49) holds, uh, 25 mL, or just barely shy of one fluid ounce. And you can even mark them for parties.
Alternatively, try this Adagio Teas simple mug ($15.76) suitable for hot or cold drinks, which is also made of tempered borosilicate glass — that is to say, just as light and strong as lab glass, with the same clean lines, but in a form factor that won’t make it look like you actually stole your mug from the lab supply cabinet.
Your smartphone outperforms the computer that powered the Apollo spaceships. Time to use it for something cooler than Candy Crush Soda Saga.
Whether you tend to be looking through a microscope, a telescope, binoculars or any other lens-y apparatus, this is a useful phone adapter mount ($19.99) that lets you use your smartphone to capture what you can see through the eyepiece. This adapter is designed to fit on to a huge variety of optical instruments. It has an adjustable clamp to fit different types of hardware, and is compatible with a range of Apple, Samsung, and Sony devices. It can fit instruments with eyepieces from 28-47mm in diameter and should be extremely useful for photography where you need to shoot through another optical device, but need a stable, secure mount with which to do it.
If the cell phone adapter mount is meant for people who want to attach an iPhone or Android device to a different piece of equipment, this lens kit ($16.99) is for those doing the photography with their smartphones in hand. It gives you both a 10x macro lens and a wide angle lens for mounting on basically any smartphone. At this price, these lenses aren’t high-end professional grade, but if you’re just trying it out or your needs are modest, or you’ve got a budding photographer just starting off, these basic kits are a great way to increase your hardware’s flexibility without breaking the bank. So many gorgeous macros.
When getting and keeping your image in focus is key, you can’t afford to have your camera jostling around. This is especially important for getting pics of what you’re viewing through your telescope viewfinder. With a compact tripod and remote shutter button ($24.99), you can be sure that your photos will be crisply focused with little wait or hassle. Bonus: you can use the shutter button when your phone is mounted on the microscope or telescope, to get perfect shots of the gorgeous slide you just stained and fixed, or the nebula you just found.
If you’ve ever wanted an infrared camera add-on for an Android or iOS device, Flir is the company to check out. Both the iOS and Android variants cost the same amount of money ($215), and the camera captures temperatures ranging from -4F to 248F (-20-120C). This particular kit is compatible with the Samsung Galaxy S5 and S6, the Samsung Galaxy Tab S10.5 and S8.4, HTC’s One M8, and the LG V400. The Flir One has its own battery so it won’t hit your smartphone’s battery life.
Where Flir lenses attach to your phone, the CAT Phone S60 ($599.99) is a unique device with a specific use-case — it’s the only smartphone on the market with a built-in thermal camera combined with a highly rugged design. At $600, this isn’t a cheap piece of equipment, and as with most rugged hardware, you can get faster smartphones for much less cash if speed is all you’re looking for. What sets the CAT S60 apart is its ability to take a beating and the integrated Flir. That said, the Snapdragon 617, 720p display, 32GB of storage, and 3GB of RAM do put this device in competitive midrange territory. If you need a thermal camera already and a rugged smartphone suits you, the CAT S60 is worth consideration.
Whether your giftee is a programmer, a mathematician, a bench chemist, an engineer, or a field archaeologist, scientists deserve some love, and there’s a snazzy gift out there that’ll make them wonder how you knew just what they wanted.
Tardigrades are made of indestructible win. Indulge my your giftee’s mild obsession with water bears, and they’ll always have a conversation starter with this tardigrade necklace ($24.99), no matter where they go. Live tiny, die never.
This lab notebook ($19.99) is the single best one I have ever touched. True story: my lab partner had one, I saw it and demanded to know where she had bought it, I bought my own, and now I’m a convert. VELA notebooks are better than Moleskine for lab or engineering notebooks, and I am aware that that’s fightin’ talk among those who keep field notes. Its hard binding is sturdy and rejects fingerprints. Its pages are lightly but clearly numbered and laid out in a 5x5mm grid. It has a gorgeous index, and if you mash it down so it lays flat on your desk, it still closes tight and square. If you are mildly, or more than mildly, obsessive about how your project notebook is numbered or laid out or how it feels in your hand; if you’re the kind of person who will lay everything out in pencil before going over it in ink, even in your field notebook; if you hesitate to commit to an organizational scheme because it might be difficult to convert that to an intelligible table of contents later; this notebook is for you. Give this to any science person and it will be a hit.
At $200, this Omax compound binocular microscope is an investment, but it’s every bit the quality you’d expect in a university lab, with up to 2,000x magnification via the oil immersion lens. If the recipient doesn’t know how to use an oil immersion objective on a microscope, don’t buy this for them. If they do, though — and you can safely ask them that question without giving away that you intend to give them a microscope, just say you saw a thing online — this is a bold, durable gift that will make a big impression.
The iFixit Pro Tech Toolkit ($69.99) has a ridiculous array of bits and tools for wrangling consumer electronics. According to ThinkGeek, it’s standard issue for some FBI and CIA teams. Can any FBI or CIA sources confirm, or is that classified?
Finally, pick up a copy of Make: Electronics ($19) and your giftee can dig into electronics and electrical engineering, whether they’re a layman, an EE major, or an experienced professional. Comprehensive and plainspoken, this book is an exceptional beginners resource, and it enabled me to play around with a RasPi B.