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November 25, 2002 Top SciTech Gifts 2002

Still haven’t found presents for the science fans on your list? Before you brave the cold and the holiday crowds again, take a look at our favorite geek gifts to give and get this year.

That time has come once again when Scientific American editors wrap up their holiday shopping. Okay, actually we’re far from done. We admit it. But in our annual mad dash for this season’s best science and technology presents, we have turned up quite a few terrific gifts–from pet tornadoes and weather stations to million-year-old fossils and ancient pyramid kits.

Grouped into five categories below–wearables, novelties, toys, gizmos and other stuff–this collection has something for the geek in all of us. How would Dad like a watch with a built-in universal remote control? How about a chemistry set of delicious bath soaps for Mom? Have a nutty relative who, so far as you can tell, lives in a cave? Give him a bona fide bat detector. Or a lump of coal–from the Titanic. Happy browsing! –the Editors


Tied to Science When you have to tie one on, it might as well be scientifically stylish. Josh Bach offers several options among its offerings of colorful silk ties for $39 apiece, including cartoons of atoms, moon phases and rocket ships.

Double Helix Bracelet Wear your feelings about science on your sleeve–and at the same time commemorate the upcoming (March 2003) 50th anniversary of the discovery of the structure of DNA by Watson and Crick. The bracelets are fashioned from spring steel and then silver plated. They come in three sizes and prices ($6, $10 or $15). There are also “hematite” and multi-color finishes available.

Smart (Alec) T-shirts Want to advertise your smarts before you even open your mouth? Some of these T-shirts should do the trick. The Bell Curve shirt shows the simple graph used so often for grading—and nicely points out the wearer’s superior spot at the far end of the scale. Another T, in a lovely shade of turquoise, conveniently shows more digits of Pi than you will ever need. /3dde42fa048dda74273fc0a814660702/Catalog/1343

Space Station Crew Cap Is someone on your gift list out of this world in one way or another? Give them this black baseball cap, identifying them as a crew member on the space station. The back of the hat features the IMAX logo.

Midas Remote Controlled Watch Think of it—a universal remote control attached to your wrist at all times. No TV will ever again escape your will, at least not if it’s within 20 feet. This watch’s database covers every make/model of TV and cable receiver imaginable. What does such power cost, you ask? Only $39.99. Novelties

Aged Well Fossils, skulls, and large insects are among the offerings at Maxilla and Mandible online. When we looked, for instance, the 350 million-year-old fossil trilobite was a steal at $56. Also available was a modern wildebeast skull with graceful black horns ($360), and an impressive specimen of a giant scorpion ($100). Prices and offerings vary.

Titanic Coal Need to fill stockings for bad children, large and small? Well, for a mere $21.95 you can give them a piece of coal from the engine room of the most famous shipwreck, the sinking of the Titanic. Each lump comes with a certificate of authenticity.

Test-tube Spice Rack For the chemist-cum-cook, this set of glass test tubes in a matching silver rack makes it easy to brew up just about anything in the kitchen. Cork stoppers keep spices fresh.

Bath Science Fill your tub with a variety of potions and lotions from this season and keep the beakers and vials for later use. The delicious soaps, bath bombs, mineral salts, aromatherapy beads and candles from this site are all you need to dissolve holiday stress.

MC2 Frame Hand-made, hand-painted and cast in bonded porcelain, this beautiful frame is a nice way to display your photos of Einstein—or anyone else you hold near and dear.

Surveyors’ Bearings Antique scientific instruments can be very pricey. But there are some high quality, accurate reproductions available that will put less of a dent in the pocketbook. The classic surveying compass, for example, was patented by Colorado mining engineer D.W Brunton in 1894. It quickly became the standard instrument for explorers mapping new lands and territories and charting coastlines. This faithful replica has a solid polished brass casing that opens to reveal folding peep sights; on the inside of the lid is a mirror with a centre line. The case is heavily constructed from a machined casting, with brass screws and hinges. It comes in a leather case with stitched seams and brass strap fastening.

Signed by Chuck Yeager In 1947, Charles E. “Chuck” Yeager, flew into history when he became the first person to fly faster than the speed of sound. The Bell X-1 Rocket Research plane he piloted. You can’t give someone the original X-1–its at the Smithsonian Institution’s National Air and Space Museum but you can give them a 1:32 scale model autographed by Yeager. The model is handcrafted of mahogany and presented on a wooden display stand.

Astronaut Autographs The moonwalker astronauts are now in their 60s and 70s–and most will likely be gone before humans return to the moon. But space buffs can still get the gift of a living remembrance of those heroic journeys in the form of NASA photographs autographed by the astronauts. For example, a signed and authenticated 16-by-20 copy of the famous photo of Neil Armstrong reflected in the faceplate of Buzz Aldrin’s helmet can be purchased for $299; framed for $459. Toys

Rocket Car Forget the run-of-the-mill remote-controlled models from Radio Shack. This two-foot long speed machine runs on pure vinegar and baking soda. You might want to send Fido outside before you fire ‘er up. 3dde42fa048dda74273fc0a814660702/Product/View/5029

Pet Tornado Speaking of pets, why not keep your very own storm around for a, well, sunny day? No need for walks, bones, scratching posts, flea collars or pigs ears. Just spin the cage and watch a baby tornado form. At $4.50, it makes a great stocking stuffer.

Cat-A-Pults Watch mechanics in action as Newton the foam cat flies from one catapult to the next. This set contains five catapults, each with 25 adjustment settings to control the cat’s trajectory up to distances of eight feet, and 10 actual Newtons, for a total of 90 feline lives. explo/catapults.html

Pyramid Building Blocks Reconstruct Tut’s tomb with this 67-piece block set. These hardwood blocks come in 18 different shapes, making it far easier for you to engineer a pyramid than it was for the ancient Egyptians. product_detail.asp?styleg301&catid001814&dptidP2

Talking Globe Learn geography plus national anthems and songs. This globe asks more than 10,000 questions and grades your answers. You can create custom quizzes at different skill levels and track scores for up to four players. product_detail.asp?style`26&catid#9&dptid#5

Ant-omology Like chemistry sets, the holidays wouldn’t be the same without some budding entomologist getting an ant farm. This escape-proof set up allows kids to watch these industrious arthropods through the walls of a round-walled clear container with a snap on magnifier for closer viewing. “Sugar Cement” puts nutrients into the sand while making it cave-in resistant and spurs the ants to greater activity. A mail-in coupon brings the ants to their new abode within 2 to 4 weeks. It also gives parents a chance to reconsider.

Designer Molecules Molecular models may be the Tinker Toys of the 21st century. Here’s a kit that contains an extensive assortment of 480 atoms molded in polypropylene. Three hundred flexible vinyl connectors represent the bond “linkages.” Double and triple bonds are easily constructed. Anything from an acid to an enzyme is easily fabricated. And even if its not the next blockbuster designer drug, the models are nice to look at.

Unraveling DNA It’s been 50 years since Watson and Crick figured out that the DNA packed in all living cells was coiled in the form of a double helix. But few people have actually seen this stuff of life. Here’s a kit that can give amateur experimenters a look by extracting the DNA from onion cells. By following simple instructions users can see the DNA precipitate from solution and lift it out of the test tube. In the process, they learn about cell lysis, denaturation, precipitation, super coiling, high molecular mass, and the double stranded helix. Gadgets

Portable Solar Array If the batteries in your CD player or cell phone run dry on a clear, sunny day, just plug the little gadget into iSun, a portable solar charger offered by ICP Global Technologies. The size of a small book, one iSun generates about two Watts of electricity, enough to power a Walkman, cell phone or PD. Each unit costs $79.99 a piece, and they can be linked together like a daisy chain to power hungrier devices.

Backyard Weather Station Dreaming of a white Christmas? Go one step farther and make your own forecast. These professional weather stations feature anemometers to measure wind speed and direction, rain collectors to track daily and accumulated rainfall amounts, temperature and humidity sensors and much more. They transmit their readings to remote LCD console/receivers that can be placed up to 400 feet away.

Bat Detectors No, this isn’t a giant bat-shaped spotlight you project into the night sky. This palm-held gizmo is the bat-hunter’s equivalent to a fish finder. For beginners, Bat Conservation International, Inc., which brings you the Swedish-made devices, suggests the E-5 Microbat model, with high/low frequency capabilities for detecting most bats through a speaker or headphones. For around $89, it comes with belt clip, battery and instructions.

Time Flows By Here’s new twist on the time-honored hourglass egg timer. The Bubble Timer is a polished two-inch acrylic cube that reckons the minutes by the lazy ascent of a bubble through a tube. Depending on the face the cube is set on, the tube has three inclinations–and hence counts out three different times: ten seconds, one minute or five minutes. Invert the cube to repeat the measurement.

Don’t Party Without It No need to fear the consequences of overzealous holiday celebrating is you are carrying this Digital Alcohol Detector. This compact personal breathalyzer uses advanced semiconductor gas sensor technology to approximate the percent of blood alcohol concentration (BAC) from your breath. Blow into the mouth vent and within 10 seconds a precise reading, in increments of 0.01 percent, ranging from 0.00 to 0.19 percent BAC.appears on the LCD display.

Atomic Time With the ExactSet clock there is no reason to call the phone company for the correct time. This compact travel clock sets itself automatically to the radio signal from the US Atomic Clock in Colorado. In addition, the clock incorporates two alarms, time/day/date display, indoor temperature, and low battery indicator. It even has an eight minute snooze for an indisputable wakeup call.

Solar Observer Here’s a safe way to look at the surface of the sun. The Sunspotter is a wooden, folded-Keplerian telescope that uses a system of mirrors and a powerful 62millimeter objective lens to project a brilliant three-inch solar image onto a white viewing screen. Sunspots can be easily tracked as they appear and move across the solar disk. Tracing the images provides an hour-by-hour or day-by-day record of the solar cycle.

Bright Beam Almost everyone has a flashlight–or too many–but the X5 LED Long Distance Flashlight adds a new dimension. Its powerful beam reaches 120 feet but, unlike conventional flashlights, it illuminates that darkness in full spectrum color by combining the light from five LED bulbs. The distinctive blue beam can be seen more than two miles away at dusk or dark. Its aircraft-grade aluminum case is virtually unbreakable, completely waterproof (up to 150 feet), and shock proof.

Digital Microscope Another old standby children’s gift–the optical microscope–is going digital. The C2D Microscope connects to a PC and can magnify objects up to 220 times their actual size. The software can record both stills and video. Like its mechanical forebears, the kit also contains dissecting tools and prepared slides. Other

Adopt a Whale For only $54 dollars, you can help support research on killer whales and claim one for your very own or for a friend. The killer whale adoption program from the Vancouver Aquarium Marine Science Center sends you an ID photo and biography of your whale, an adoption certificate, a CD featuring the sounds of British Columbia’s killer whales and newsletter about the research program. You choose your whale from a pull-down menu: Balaklava, Clio, Echo, Izumi, Nimpkish, Whisky and pals are waiting.

Sponsor a Big Cat For only $25, you can sponsor a jaguar, snow leopard or Siberian Tiger and get a bunch of great goodies as well. The Wildlife Conservation Society will send you a limited edition T-shirt, one year of their magazine, a brief history of your cat and information about what WCS is doing in its habitat to help protect wildlife. For $35 or more, you’ll also receive a quarterly newsletter.

Blue Planet This hauntingly beautiful journey beneath the sea made documentary history. From giant whales to tiny coral polyps and the strange organisms that live in the abyssal deep, it contains scenes never before captured on camera. Narrated by Sir David Attenborough, it stands as a definitive exploration of the ocean’s most breathtaking habitats, from its deepest recesses to its frozen deserts. The entire series is available in a boxed gift set of four DVDs. DVD extras include behind-the-scenes featurettes, interviews, photo galleries, fact files and a Blue Planet music video.