Science geeks can be some of the most finicky people we know. Luckily, we're compiled a list of the best science-themed presents, befitting everyone from the guy who likes to point out technical errors in the comment section to your cute, inquisitive niece.
Why yes, it is very much possible to own (and gift) a piece of outer space. Your best bet is Aerolite, which sells a great variety of meteorites, each one accompanied by an ID card detailing its chemical makeup and location found. Prices vary; certain kinds are definitely rarer than others, so you can choose your level of generosity accordingly. But even the smallest, plainest looking meteorites have traveled millions of miles before getting here, surviving an extraordinary journey that trumps pretty much anything else on Earth. $US145+ [Aerolite]
What If? by Randall Munroe
You love xkcd. I love xkcd. The whole internet loves xkcd. Based on the spinoff blog of the same name, What If?: Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions by web comic creator Randall Munroe probably needs no introduction. But in case it does, here are just some of the questions Munroe answers in witty, illustrated form: What would happen if you tried to hit a baseball pitched at 90% the speed of light? How big would Google's data warehouse be if all digital data were stored on punchcards? What if a Richter 15 earthquake hit New York City? All of the answers are right here in this book. $US14.40 [Amazon]
Molecular Gastronomy Starter Kit
For anyone who wants to experiment with molecular gastronomy but isn't quite ready to cook through all 400 pages of the Alinea cookbook, this kit is the perfect starter. It has all tools and powders, which you would ordinary need to buy in big packages, to make fruit caviar, arugula pasta, beat foam, or whatever weird food molecular gastronomist have dreamed up. $US48 [ThinkGeek]
Klein Bottle Opener
It's pretty damn hard for us three-dimensional beings to understand objects in four dimensions, so why not do it with a few beers in you. A Klein bottle, for the non-maths nerds among you, is special type of shape that has no inside or outside, similar to how a Mobius strip has only one side. True Klein bottles only exist in four dimensions, but the Klein bottle opener is 3D representation of one. Like I said, it's more fun to ponder when you've been drinking. Cheers! $US64 [Shapeways]
The New Science
If you're fan of the so-called German-style games made popular by Settlers of Catan, then you've probably spent a lot of time 1) fighting over polygons of land or 2) farming that land. But suppose you bring loftier intellectual ambitions to the tabletop. Suppose you prefer looking at art that is handsome and understated rather than bursting with boobs. (Or you would very much like someone you love to be those things.) In that case, check out The New Science, a board game sent during the Scientific Revolution. Play as one of five scientific luminaries, including Newton and Galileo, and race to become the most greatest scientist of all. $US50 [Conquistador Games]
Prints from the drawings of Ernst Haeckel
With the ubiquity of GoPros and DSLRs and heck even smartphone cameras, it's easy to enjoy nature's beauty from afar these days. Back when 19th century biologist Ernst Haeckel was illustrating Kunstformen der Natur (Art Forms of Nature), his plankton and cephalopods and jellyfish would have appeared utterly fantastic and foreign. Their beauty and weirdness still hold up today. You can easily find Haeckel's illustrations on any major site selling prints, and you can also buy the book Kunstformen der Natur for the bookshelf or coffee table. Price varies
Konstructor DIY Camera Kit
To really understand how something works, you have to take it apart. Or in this case, put it together. Lomography sells a Konstructor DIY Kit that takes just an hour or two to fully assemble. Think of it as a crash course in optics. The basic version starts at $US35, and you can pay for additional perks like flash or a transparent body. And for film nostalgics, yes, it uses 35 mm film. $US35 [Lomography]
For the inquisitive kid (and budding scientist), look no further than Horrible Science. The book series -- twenty volumes in total -- doesn't shy away from the gross, weird, and bizarre with titles like Chemical Chaos and Fatal Forces. But most of all, the books present science as an utterly human enterprise; they're as much about the lives of scientists as the science itself.
I remember waiting for each Horrible Science book as it was available in Scholastic's book catalogue when I was a kid. It now appears to be out of print in the U.S., which really only makes the books that much more special. You can still buy get the entire set, or subsets or individual books from the series. $US35 [Amazon]