Prof. Disbrow makes a list and checks it twice for budding scientists
If you’ve got a young scientist in the family, you might be wondering what kind of holiday gifts to get them. So this month, I thought I’d take a look at some last-minute gifts you can get your own little Marie Curie (or Neil deGrasse Tyson).
For the Experimenter
If you are of a certain age, you probably had a chemistry set that contained some pretty explosive stuff. (Or it told you how to make some.)
Alas, these days, most of the really fun stuff has been regulated out of these sets. But there are still loads of different, basic chemistry, physics and biology kits out there. These give kids a fun (and somewhat safer) way to get their feet wet with the basic concept of experimentation as a part of the scientific process.
Prices on these kits vary widely, but if you want to go all out, the $250 “Thames & Kosmos CHEM C3000” is pretty much the top of the line. It’s got everything a young chemist needs, including protective goggles, pipettes and an evaporating dish. (Available from the online store at livescience.com.)
For the Tinkerer
Does your kid like to pull things apart to see how they work? Well, then, you’ve got lots of choices.
If you are the traditional type, you can get a good old-fashioned electronics kit. These kits have been around forever and teach kids the basics of electric circuits. They focus on building working projects (like radios, electro-magnets and audio amplifiers), rather than experimentation. But once a child learns the basics of how electronics work, it’s only a matter of time before they start switching things around and building their own projects. (The livescience.com store has lots of these too.)
Another, more modern, choice would be a micro-controller kit, such as the Arduino (arduino.cc). Combined with other components, like motors and light sensors, the Arduino can be used to control pretty much anything you can imagine…like clocks, robots, and musical instruments. There are even wearable versions of the Arduino that can be sewn into clothes to create “smart” garments of their own design. (For example, on instructables.com, there is an Arduino-based fanny pack that will tell you when your butt-crack is exposed. Really.)
Or, you could get a Raspberry Pi (raspberrypi.org). While the Arduino is “just” a controller, the Pi is a complete (but very tiny and inexpensive) computer. Hook it up to a monitor, keyboard and mouse, and they’ve got a full-blown Linux-based computer that they can do all sorts of things with. They could use it as just a controller like the Arduino, or for more traditional computer-type things, like learning to program.
For the Reader
One thing that most scientifically curious kids have in common is that they all love to read. It’s no coincidence that there are hundreds (if not thousands) of science books specifically for kids. Some great ones include:
“Star Stuff: Carl Sagan and the Mysteries of the Cosmos” (Stephanie Sisson). Carl Sagan was the host of the original “Cosmos” series and one of the most famous scientists in generations. This book is a kid-friendly, illustrated biography of sorts that tells how he became interested in science as a child.
“Cosmos (1980 Edition).” Speaking of “Cosmos,” did you know there was a gorgeous hardcover book that went along with the TV show? Well, there was. And if you can find a copy, it’s worth every penny.
“Evolution: How We and All Living Things Came to Be” (Daniel Loxton). Another gorgeous book that details how Darwin developed his theory of evolution, and, more importantly, how we know that it’s true.
So, there you go. Just a few ideas for gifts that the young scientist in your life will love! Happy Holidays!
Steven Disbrow is a computer programmer who specializes in e-commerce and mobile systems development, an entrepreneur, comic-book nerd, writer, improviser, actor, sometime television personality and parent of two human children.