Earlier this week, we posted a list of cool science-y things you might add to your own wish list... things that would be fun to explore and might win holiday brownie points with Mom and Dad for sheer educational value. Hopefully you made sincere, compelling, and scientifically sound arguments. But now it's time to take a look at grown-up gadgets and science toys. Do you need to buy something for Mom, Dad, Uncle Joe, or Grandma? Maybe you've been thinking about what to give? Maybe you're hoping for perfect holiday brownies, in addition to the brownie points? There are tools that can help with that!
We asked the Science Buddies staff—the group of people who bring you all of our great science project ideas and resources—what was on their wish lists. Not surprisingly, they had some "scientific" answers! There are some unexpected but cool gift ideas on their lists... items, tools, and gadgets that you might be able to use in your own projects!
So, in the spirit of giving, we pass along this roundup of staff wishes. You might just spot the perfect gift for someone on your list... and we'll help by offering a few ways you might be able to "borrow" it for your own exploration!
(Parents, if you are reading along, we think you'll find some great suggestions here for things you might really use—and that would give you exciting new ways to bring more science into your house and into your dinner table conversations.)
- Courtney (a.k.a. "Science Mom") wants a digital kitchen scale
"As I get older and more interested in higher quality, more expensive kitchen gadgets—and as I become a better cook and baker (which my family enjoys!)— I find that I really want to have a more accurate scale since weighing ingredients is the most accurate way to determine quantity."
The good for me, too, angle: A digital scale can be used in many science projects that require accurate weighing, but that doesn't mean it's just for food (or just for the kitchen). A shiny new digital scale would come in handy in the Build a Raft Powered by Surface Tension project (Difficulty: 5-6). Or, if you do want to experiment in the kitchen, check out this materials science abbreviated project idea, The Fluffiest Muffins: Flour Type and Muffin Density* (Difficulty: 5).
- Tina wants a heart rate monitor
"I am training for next year's dipsea race, a 7.5 mile point-to-point off-trail race from Mill Valley to Stinson beach. A heart rate monitor will help keep me on track."
The good for me, too, angle: Tracking heart rate is a great way to monitor how hard your heart is working. You could test-drive a new heart rate monitor instead of measuring pulse rate in the Fear Factor: Using Pulse Rate to Measure Emotion human behavior project (Difficulty: 5-8). Even younger students can use a tool like this as they explore A Day in the Life of Your Heart (Difficulty: 2-3).
- Ken (founder, President, and astro-photographer) wants Canon Image Stabilized Binoculars
"It's hard to hold binoculars steady enough to see clearly, but technology has come to the rescue. Image stabilized binoculars compensate for your every wiggle, holding the image rock steady, so it's easy to see the details on the moon, nebula, or birds!"
The good for me, too, angle: After you satisfy your Spy Kids-inspired curiosity, these high-power binocs can help you observe things you can't easily get close to—or animals whose behavior might change if you get too close. Take a closer look at bird anatomy and patterns of adaptation in the Can You Predict a Bird's Lifestyle Based on Its Feet? zoology project (Difficulty: 3).
- Sandra wants a Molecular Gastronomy
Artistre Spherification Starter Kit
"In my family we're hooked on the TV show 'Top Chef,' which is where I first heard about molecular gastronomy. Talk about a tasty fusion of chemistry and food! So, I'm hoping that there's a molecular gastronomy starter kit sitting under our Christmas tree this year. If so, I'll be experimenting and tasting my way into the New Year figuring out how to make fruit 'caviar' and Nutella powder."
The good for me, too, angle: Besides getting to eat the yummy concoctions you create, you can investigate what makes the recipes work—and even invent a few of your own. You can get started experimenting with ingredient swapping projects like: Chemistry of Baking Ingredients 1: How Much Baking Powder Do Quick Breads Need? and Egg Substitutes (Difficulty: 2-5). And if Sandra gets her wish, she's promised to share new molecular gastronomy project ideas in the New year!
- Rebecca wants eye droppers
"My toddler knows his colors, so we want to start introducing the concept of mixing colors to make new colors. With eye droppers of water and food coloring, he can see the effect of mixing these colors on paper towels, rather than just mixing his ketchup and mustard at the dinner table."
The good for me, too, angle: Eye droppers are a staple in many lab projects. You can put them to innovative use making your own markers (Difficulty: 3). Or, you'll find them handy as you study plant biology in the Plants on the Move! Experiments with Phototropism project (Difficulty: 6).
- Kristian wants a Thermochron iButton -40°C thru +85°C data logger
"We sometimes go on overnight backcountry skiing trips and are learning to build snow shelters (quinzhees). It would be cool to compare the temps inside the quinzhee compared to a tent or other structure."
The good for me, too, angle: Lots of projects require frequent temperature readings. Wouldn't it be great to gather all that data even when you aren't there to read the thermometer? With the high-tech iButton (you can hook it up to your computer later to upload the data), you're all set to to explore an environmental engineering project like Rooftop Gardens: Are They a Cool Idea? (Difficulty: 4).
- Michelle wants a new stop watch
"Many of the projects I work on require timing reactions, measuring ball pitches, calculating velocities, and so on." (She also put a new "tape measure" on her list. She's a scientist through and through!)
The good for me, too, angle: A good stop watch is a must-have for many physics or aerodynamics projects! Grab a stop watch as you hit the pavement for the Popping an Ollie: How Skateboarders + Physics = A Really Cool Trick sports science project (Difficulty: 4). Or, take an investigative approach to an edgy sport in Paintball Ballistics (Difficulty: 7).
- Kaarin wants a weather station
"It would be great to be able to see the outside temperature and humidity from inside the house."
The good for me, too, angle: With an in-home weather station on hand, you can track all kinds of weather patterns, or explore the fog in the Foggy Forecasting: What Weather Factors Create Radiation Fog? project (Difficulty: 6).
- Marisa wants digital BBQ tongs and a Nano-UV Disinfection Scanner
"Digital tongs take the guesswork out of whether or not the meat is 'done.' Nobody likes food poisoning! And the scanner uses Nano-UV light to destroy microorganisms in 10 seconds—without toxins or side effects."
The good for me, too, angle: Set your Nano-UV light loose on germs in the Death Rays: What Duration of Ultraviolet Exposure Kills Bacteria? microbiology project (Difficulty: 7).
(Marisa also asked for an Orbitor Electronic Listening Device. (You may or may not want your parents to have that!)
- Justin wants a digital anemometer
"I love to do aeronautical projects, and this will help me accurately measure and record wind speed!"
The good for me, too, angle: With your own anemometer, your next kite-flying adventure will soar. Give it a try in the How Low Can It Go? Design a Kite that Flies Best in Low Winds project (Difficulty: 5-8) Or take a power-conscious approach in the Build Your Own Windmill Generator & Measure its Electrical Current Output project (Difficulty: 6).
- Claire wants noise canceling headphones
"I am traveling for the holidays and am hoping noise canceling technology might give me a peaceful flight!"
The good for me, too, angle: You might find that noise canceling headphones can improve your focus when you're studying—or help you block out a younger sibling! But if you want a science spin, you could adapt the Frequency-Dependent Sound Absorption project to explore what frequency and volume are necessary to be heard through noise-canceling headphones (Difficulty: 7).
- Amy wants a set of DSLR extension tubes
"I really want a full-frame (non-crop sensor) upgrade to my DSLR—or at least a good 100mm prime lens. But I'd settle for a set of extension tubes for some plug-and-play variety and an easy macro boost !
The good for me, too, angle: Extension tubes are not the same as a new lens, but they have the effect of magnifying the image and thus giving you the ability to explore macro photography—even if you don't have a bag full of lenses. A comparison of the quality of photos shot with extension tubes versus true macro lenses—or a quantitative study of the amount of light required for use with extension tubes—would make a great independent study! To get started thinking about how to construct a project like this, look at the Camera Lens Testing project idea (Difficulty: 5-9).
We hope you find the perfect gift for anyone on your list. If you can "also" use the gift in your next science project, it's all good!