Is there such a thing as a science kit for adults?
November 29, 2016 6:22 PM   Subscribe

I want to get my girlfriend something crafty or hands-on for Christmas. I know she has a secret fascination with geology, and we've talked about how she wishes she'd been able to play with science kits when she was a kid. So I really want to get her a science kit now, ideally something geology-related, but is it possible to get one that's maybe one a little more engaging for a woman in her 30s?

I've been doing a little research, and so far I've only seen things for kids. Great stuff for kids! But really only for kids. The best ones I've come across so far are the kits by Thames and Kosmos. They look great, but as far as earth science goes, I think the appeal of growing a crystal is maybe a little limited for her (although I could be wrong). And they do have some pretty cool kits, but I think a $300 chemistry set might be a bit much.

Is there some kind of middle ground, something that will let her have fun with geology-related stuff? In fact, it doesn't even necessarily have to be related to geology or earth science -- I almost got her a make-your-own-glowstick kit until I saw that it only "glows" when you shine a light on it.

It doesn't even need to be a complete kit, either -- I'm willing to buy things separately from a science supply store and box them up for her, if possible. She might enjoy a small box of "mix A with B and you get X fun thing, etc," but I have no idea what that could be.

Do I have any options, or is the concept of an adult science kit just something that lives in my head? Are there hands-on, sufficiently engaging science-y alternatives that she'd enjoy?

(Shoot, even just for future reference, if anyone knows of any geology tours in the Bay Area, she'd probably be (secretly) very excited to go.)
posted by teponaztli to Shopping (28 answers total) 32 users marked this as a favorite
Would something like this rock collection be appropriate? Sometimes it's exciting just to see and touch all the different kinds of rocks! You could also get some kind of magnifier to let her take closer looks at the rocks.
posted by foxfirefey at 6:29 PM on November 29, 2016

I am 40 and have not yet outgrown my love of science kits. I've actually been eyeing the crystal growing kit because it's one I've never tried.

Things I have tried and enjoyed: breaking open geodes kits, rock identification kits, and there is at least one rock mine in Montana that will send you a bucket of dirt that you can sift through for gem stones. All of these were very interesting and fun!
posted by ilovewinter at 6:31 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

So if I wanted to get an adult a "geology kit", it would probably include something like:

- a rock identification guide
- a book about the geology of the area you live in (California probably has super cool geology!)
- a divided plastic box
- basic tools for rock ID, maybe something like this?
- an invitation to go on some hikes to places where you are likely to find interesting rocks

fake edit on preview: oooh yeah those break-open-a-geode things are super fun too :D
posted by quaking fajita at 6:34 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Maybe something marketed as hands-on lab kits for online geology classes, such as these? These came up when I searched for "geology 101 lab kits".
posted by mollweide at 6:34 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

Oh hey apparently the testing kit I linked to is from some kind of "Biblical Geology" company so uh...maybe not that?
posted by quaking fajita at 6:36 PM on November 29, 2016 [6 favorites]

What about a rock tumbler and some jewllery making supplies (wire, earring backings etc) so she can make her own jewellery with her tumbled rocks? Crafty and geology in one!
posted by Northbysomewhatcrazy at 7:03 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

This is coming at this from a different direction, but what comes to mind when I think "adult science kit" is a molecular cocktail or molecular gastronomy kit. (These kits get a bad rap from people really into this style of cooking, but they're great starter kits and lots of fun.)
posted by rhiannonstone at 7:07 PM on November 29, 2016 [3 favorites]

A science box subscription like AstroBox is sort of in the same department.
posted by zamboni at 7:21 PM on November 29, 2016

Check out Zandy and Katy's Rock Extravaganza. They have the coolest stuff, and Katy has a lovely etsy store filled with pretty rock jewelry.

She may also enjoy one of the break-your-own geode kits ... those are always fun!
posted by Ostara at 7:33 PM on November 29, 2016

You may want to accompany your fun gift with the Roadside Geology book for your state. They are amazing.
posted by grouse at 7:41 PM on November 29, 2016 [9 favorites]

How about a geology field trip instead of a kit? There's a Meetup group that specializes in geology hikes in the SF Bay Area. I've never been on one, but years ago I somehow managed to hook up with some UC Berkeley undergrads on a fossil-collecting trip in the East Bay, which was a lot of (muddy) fun.

Or you could roll your own field trip and give her this delightfully titled book: Streetcar to Subduction and Other Plate Tectonic Trips by Public Transport In San Francisco. Less mud, more cute cafes.
posted by Quietgal at 7:44 PM on November 29, 2016 [2 favorites]

Get a rock hammer, a Roadside Geology book, and make a road trip to locations. The Golden Gate state park has some incredible rock whirls of the geologic faults that are quite amazing.

The book "Annals of the former world" are a fantastic travelogue of both North America and the history of modern geology.
posted by nickggully at 8:16 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

For an experience, rather than a physical thing, you could design a date around one of the citizen science apps that are trendy these days.
posted by tinymegalo at 9:40 PM on November 29, 2016

So, as a geologist, here's a few thoughts on that angle:

nthing the Roadside Geology series - those books are fantastic. IMO, geology is the most fun when enjoyed in the field, so I like the idea of getting her a decent rock hammer (and safety glasses!) and a book. Also, consider a hand lens (at least 10x is best IMO) so you can see your rocks and minerals up close in the field and make identifications. You could also get her a hardness kit to take out in the field with you or make it yourself (it's basically a ceramic streak plate, some weak acid, some minerals of known hardness, etc.). There are apps now to replace a Brunton compass if you want to full on nerd out and get strike/dip measurements of any bedrock outcrops you visit. Some of those apps cost money and could be part of a gift.

I also agree that the rock polisher/tumbler and jewelry making kit could be fun if she likes that sort of thing. It's even better when you find your own minerals and rocks in the field and make things out of them!
posted by FireFountain at 10:24 PM on November 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

I know it's not strictly geology (although you can no doubt look at minerals on it), but what about a microscope? Someone gave me, a grown-ass woman with an interest in science but no real background in it, a cheap kid's microscope for my birthday last year and it was awesome fun.
posted by lollusc at 11:31 PM on November 29, 2016

Get her a 10x or 14x Hastings triplet Bausch and Lomb magnifier.
Don't get an off-brand: cheap lenses are awful to use.
posted by the Real Dan at 1:30 AM on November 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Since you aren't limited to Geology, would a quarterly maker box scratch that itch?

Also, I like the idea of a geology kit, but as quaking fajita noted the one posted above is from a website for young earth creationists. This could have a hilarious effect on your girlfriend...or may be a break up moment.

Ward's Science has classroom kits that you could either buy...or use as an example to piece together your own. Ward's has a better sense of the actual age of the Earth.
posted by Toddles at 3:12 AM on November 30, 2016

Call your local natural history museum and find out if they run trips. I've been out on a bunch of fossil-finding trips with my local museum, and they usually include a talk on the geology of the area you're visiting, plus time to look at and collect rocks/fossils.
posted by snaw at 6:21 AM on November 30, 2016

John McPhee's Assembling California is a seminal classic of west coast geology non-fiction. Highly recommended companion to any other gift you choose.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 9:13 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Came to suggest Assembling California but will now suggest a weekend in Death Valley and a cheap telescope.
posted by athirstforsalt at 9:25 AM on November 30, 2016

Death Valley is the most amazing place I (geologist) have ever been, and I will not shut up about taking each and everyone of my friends there until they are quite understandably sick of hearing it from me. For anyone who's picturing cow skulls and saguaro cactus, there are campsites with running water, bathrooms, and picnic tables; it's absolutely possible to drive to 90% of the places you want to go in a non-offroad vehicle, on paved roads.

Hiking Death Valley by Michel Digonnet is an excellent guidebook for everything from casual car-traveler to insane-backpacker trips, so I'll leave that advice instead of a pages-long list of my own must see spots (PM if you want the deluge) but I will offer two bits of advice. Firstly, don't get a cheap telescope, get good binoculars instead. They'll serve you better and they're far easier to deal with on a trip. Get a stand for them, or just bring folding chairs so you can lay back and look up; the skies are unreal. Secondly, there is a grill in the Furnace Creek Visitor's Center (across from the most centrally-located camping spots) that serves food, and is always packed with families... and there is a bar attached to it that _also_ serves the same food, but doesn't allow anyone under 21 and is therefore far less crowded, in case you get sick of camping food and just want a damn cheeseburger.
posted by Phineas Rhyne at 10:18 AM on November 30, 2016 [5 favorites]

Ooh, yes, Death Valley trip. I carry along Geology Underfoot in Death Valley and Owens Valley by Robert Sharp and Allen Glazner when I go. I haven't read the Digonnet book recommended by Phineas Rhyne, but Geology Underfoot has maps showing you where to park, where to walk, etc. to get to specific geological points of interest. Very handy, and includes popular spots like Mammoth Lakes.
posted by late afternoon dreaming hotel at 11:29 AM on November 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

If she likes fossils too, take a picnic to Capitola Beach! From the parking area, just walk left along the beach :)
posted by Drosera at 5:45 PM on November 30, 2016

Visit the Consolidated Rock & Mineral shop in Vacaville, they have a complete inventory of lapidary supplies and also reference books. There are two separate Roadside Guides to California Geology, one Northern and one Southern, keep a copy in your car. A visit to Mount Lassen is likely to stir interest in California's recent geologic events. The entire Owens Valley is textbook of geology. Enjoy a fascinating study.
posted by X4ster at 10:24 PM on November 30, 2016

The kits suggested above look good for delving into mineralogy, the field guides and road trips are more for geology on the grand scale. I'd be delighted to read how things go for you.
posted by X4ster at 10:41 PM on November 30, 2016

I used to put together science kits for middle schoolers. A few things come to mind for diy science kit:

Sodium acetate hand warmers. Ok, get this, the fluid inside those wonderful things is supersaturated sodium acetate. There's usually a little clickable disk that begins a crystal seed. Most of them are in a transparent enough bag that you can see the crystallization happen. And it gets warm--a bad-ass exothermic reaction. The process can repeated again and again by boiling it and returning the crystal to its liquid state. This is related to how all crystals are made: a solution of chemicals begin growing from a "seed."

If you want to make your own crystals, I recommend copper sulfate. You can get a bottle of it at a hardware store in the plumbing section. It's usually like an awesome cobalt blue sand. Check the ingredients, some companies add fillers to make it non-caking, usually not enough to ruin crystals. This stuff is pretty poisonous. Use gloves, googles, and an apron (all good things to put in a science kit). There are directions for making a super-saturated solution online--for salt, sugar (ie rock candy--the most difficult crystals to grow funny enough), and copper sulfate. The good thing about copper sulfate is that there are usually largish crystals in the bottle to use for "seeds." A clean, fine wire or thread can be tied around a "seed" for the crystal to grow on.

Most of my ideas for science kits had projects/experiments in mind. I'd google "home science," "diy science" etc and make a list of components. That's how I found out hardware stores have hydrochloric acid--for cleaning concrete. Or for making pure hydrogen balloons using the zinc from US pennies minted after 1986. Hydrogen balloons are a very fun outside project.

I still scan thrift shops for science kits--they hide among the games and puzzles. I also keep an eye out for tool boxes or tackle boxes to convert to science kits. Scan the knickknacks for paperweights made of different stones or metals. I once found a jar made of lead.?? Cool for if I ever find radioactive material I guess. They're also a good finding cheap stainless steel pots and utensils to make supersaturated solutions with--though it is important that they're decently smooth and clean. There always seems to be Pyrex ramekins which are great anyways. I wouldn't advise using thrift store glassware that will be heated--micro-scratches can't be seen and cause booms where there shouldn't be booms.

Also, dollar stores are great places to find googles, rulers, measuring cups, scales, wires, balloons, hand warmers, gloves, plastic bottles, batteries, tweezers, nail files, acetone, superglue, cellophane tape that's polarized (Scotch brand isn't). They often have magnifying glasses. Sometimes a hunk of tonalite and a magnifying glass is all you need.

I also love geology. As said above, John McPhee is a great author. I'm currently reading about the English/French chalk that makes up the unique karst soil for Champagne in "The Silk Parachute."

I also found listening to a geology 101 course helped further understand the Roadside Geology books mentioned above. I took a class, but hearing another professor talk about the same concepts helped. It felt like I was swimming in new terms and massive concepts, but then more and more ideas clicked. NOVA recently aired a great four-part series on the geologic history of North America. There's also one for Australia, which goes back even further.

Have so much fun!
posted by montaigneisright at 2:11 AM on December 1, 2016

Seconding microscope. Decent and inexpensive 20x/40x (most say that higher magnifications not necessary/helpful) stereo scopes available that can swing to examine larger specimens. So much to see on the most ordinary-looking rock. Insects are amazing, moths a miracle. We've looked at bat guano with identifiable compound eye remnants. Leaf structures, molds, feathers, fingernails, pond water - all can invoke a sense of wonder at the depth and structure of every blessed thing.
posted by bullatony at 7:08 AM on December 1, 2016

Response by poster: Hey, just a follow up to say thank you so much for all the suggestions! I ended up ordering one of the kid-like science kits, crystal growing and all, along with the John McPhee book, since she and I both love his writing (I was able to subtly ask if she'd read it: "I'm thinking of getting a John McPhee book for my mom... have you read anything by him besides the Pine Barrens?" Subtle like a fox). I think I'll order the roadside geography book too, as a launching point for trips together -- because some of the trip ideas, including that store in Vacaville, sound so great.

So thanks again! And I'll let you know how she reacts if the thread is still open.
posted by teponaztli at 10:37 AM on December 7, 2016 [2 favorites]

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