What's a good non-geeky present for a scientist?
November 16, 2009 9:12 AM   Subscribe

GiftFilter: What would be a great present for someone who loves science, but not in a geeky/campy way?

My boyfriend (a 2nd-year undergrad in biochemistry)'s birthday is coming up and I am completely stymied as to what to get him - the only thing he's really mentioned is that he would like something science/biology-related. The problem is that he's not into science in the geeky sort of way that would appreciate things like this xkcd shirt, giant microbes, or a periodic table shower curtain.

He doesn't read all that much, so books are so-so; I'd get him a subscription to Nature but he already has one. He has aspirations of someday having a basement lab, so the best idea I've had so far is putting together a gel electrophesis box for him, but a) it's a bit pricey and b) it wouldn't be of much use without pipets to load it with and actual gels to put in it.

I'm terrible at thinking of good gifts, so I throw myself upon the mercy of the hive mind. Any suggestions you can offer would be deeply, deeply appreciated!
posted by daelin to Science & Nature (19 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
Subscription to Science. You sign up to be a member to AAAS, and the magazine is free as part of membership.
posted by jujube at 9:20 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

It might be a bit dear, but an Aerogarden is a nice gift.

Or maybe a USB microscope?
posted by MuffinMan at 9:23 AM on November 16, 2009

How about a coffee table-type book of beautiful microscopy photos?

Also, David Attenborough documentaries are awesome to both the campy and non-campy science dorks.
posted by Jon_Evil at 9:24 AM on November 16, 2009

I was also going to suggest a subscription to Science.
posted by lucy.jakobs at 9:26 AM on November 16, 2009

Does he have a good molecular model kit? They're a lot of fun to play with and very useful in biochemistry.
posted by sciencegeek at 9:51 AM on November 16, 2009

Bill Bryson's A Short History of Nearly Everything -- illustrated!
posted by Jaltcoh at 9:54 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

What about something related to the history of his subfield? For example, I study a particular microorganism, and one of the most useful gifts I've ever gotten is a text that includes all of the seminal research papers on the organism, and includes a commentary on each by the current leader in the field. Something like that, or a general history, may be available for his field as well.

I strongly recommend against the AAAS membership/Science subscription, for 3 simple reasons: it's a) crazy expensive, b) something he 99.9999% likely already has access to through his uni, and c) they offer free "fellowship" memberships for graduate students.
posted by amelioration at 10:02 AM on November 16, 2009

How handy is he? A lot of equipment that would cost you hundreds to buy you can cobble together yourself for a song. Early electrophoresis was done in glass tubing. There are also instructions for using lego for a horzontal gel tray (much like you link to).

If you want to do science in the basement, tools and equipment to work plexiglass would be very handy. Also, he might like some of the books these folks are selling since they're big on the kinds of skills that come in handy when you're trying to make things like precision equipment on the cheap. (And believe me, explaining lead screw backlash and pippette accuracy to people who wouldn't know an Acme thread if it came up and bit them is big fun.)
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 10:15 AM on November 16, 2009

Maybe a Galileo thermometer. Here's some for sale.
posted by exogenous at 10:18 AM on November 16, 2009

Does he like to cook? There's a lot of cool food science out there, and I'd be hard pressed to call that geeky.

You could get him a cookbook (there are some neat ones out on a cooking technique called Sous Vide- Thomas Keller has one) or just a general interest book (I've enjoyed What Einstein Told His Cook).

Alternatively, you could get your hands on some liquid nitrogen and dry ice, and come up with some cool things to make with it (ice cream and soda pop are the classics, respectively). There's a lot of fun to be had with dry ice beyond food, anyway...
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 10:28 AM on November 16, 2009

Second option! A class in glass-blowing. So cool!
posted by beepbeepboopboop at 10:29 AM on November 16, 2009

I don't know if this is two geeky, or if your boy is the cufflink/lapel pin/man-necklace sort, but I think these are beautiful.
posted by i_am_a_fiesta at 10:51 AM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Taschen makes some really beautiful reprints of classic natural history texts. Seba's Cabinet of Natural Curiosities is particularly lovely (that link goes to the fanciest full edition, but you can get excellent versions for $25-50 on Amazon).
posted by susanvance at 11:14 AM on November 16, 2009

I'm an (ex-biochem) molecular biology major and I would love this but it's expensive. High quality though!

Also ... please note: although molecular modeling kits are cool, chances are if he's a second year biochem student he's either currently taking or has already taken organic chemistry and already has a kit (o-chem is generally the first class in a biochem curriculum that uses them).
posted by kthxbi at 12:38 PM on November 16, 2009

Best answer: I ordered these molecular and biochemical pathway posters and they are pretty fantastic.

on this page it tells you to order them from Roche. Find your corresponding representative on the website, and send a request with your address, free of charge.
posted by clearly at 1:18 PM on November 16, 2009

I would also advise against a Science subscription (at least, unless he says he wants it). It's a great journal, but as amelioration says, he almost certainly has access to any articles in it already, and one of Science/Nature is probably enough for a personal subscription - there is only so much time in the week available for reading before the next issue arrives.
posted by James Scott-Brown at 1:43 PM on November 16, 2009

Best answer: I used to have a coffee "mug" that was basically a glass beaker with a handle on it. I thought it was the coolest thing ever and all of my chem/biochem major pals in college thought so as well. It looked something like this
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 2:27 PM on November 16, 2009 [1 favorite]

Give him a prism as stocking stuffer.
posted by Oireachtac at 12:09 PM on November 17, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all for your great suggestions! I marked the two as best answer that I saw and thought "oh yes, he will like these" - and it turns out he did, very much. But thanks everyone for lending your time and offering some ideas!
posted by daelin at 4:22 PM on November 20, 2009

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