Struggling to get your holiday shopping done? We rounded up a list of unique gifts for those who’d like a little STEM with their holiday cheer. From coded bracelets to mathematical-impossibility-turned-bottle-opener, these gifts take your imagination, your DIY-spirit, and quest for knowledge to a whole new level. And they’re made all the more fun if you know a little bit of the science behind them.
Personalized Copper Binary Code Cuff Bracelet
Binary code, the two-state language that has driven computers and microchip design since the beginning, is being shouldered out by quantum computing, whose “qubits” can define more than two states for an individual electron, leading to vastly greater efficiencies. Relive the glory days of on/off thinking with a specially encoded secret message of up to 70 characters etched onto this copper bracelet, making a unique gift with a secret code hiding in plain sight.
Bigshot Do-It-Yourself Camera Kit
Ever wonder how digital cameras capture an image? Just like a person! The retina converts incoming light into electrical signals, which are sent to the brain and translated into an image. Replace the retina with an image sensor full of detectors (pixels) and you’ve got a camera. Pixels generate an electrical charge proportional to the brightness of light they receive, and that charge is converted to a number and stored in the camera’s memory. Bigshot Camera Kit takes DIY to a whole new level. With a complementary interactive learning book, Bigshot conveys a deeper understanding of photography—and optics, electronics, and engineering—while teaching you to build something cool and useful.
The Klein Bottle
Remember the Mobius Strip, a one-sided, one-edged surface? Take a strip of paper, give it a half-twist and tape it together and you have one. In 19th Century, mathematician Felix Klein wondered what it would mean to attach two strips together, forming a single-sided bottle with one side and no edges. And there you have the Klein Bottle…well, sort of. It cannot actually be produced, because it requires 4-dimensions (the object would pass through itself without making a hole in it). But there are some interesting semblances out there, like this stylish 3D-printed tchotchke.
Or for your ever-thirsty mathematician, there’s this Klein Bottle Opener.
Brickcase for iPad Mini
LEGO® toys have been often, and correctly, touted for their ability to teach kids (and adults) core components of structural engineering—how to balance weight, support design, prepare against natural forces, etc. In the age of the touchscreen and memory cloud, sometimes you just have to use your hands. High-tech and low-tech come together seamlessly in this wonderful new iPad case. A Brickcase makes your iPad tangibly more fun. Use LEGO® to build something on your front cover, use the iPad to document it, and then go online to seek additional architectural inspiration.
Ecosphere Closed Ecosystem
In an ecosystem—all the living things in a given area interacting with one another and with the environment—everything has a role to play. With this closed ecosystem, you can witness the circle of life first hand. Light and carbon dioxide in the water allow the algae to produce oxygen by photosynthesis. The shrimp breathe the oxygen in the water and eat the algae and bacteria. The bacteria break down the animal waste into nutrients, which the algae utilize. The shrimp and bacteria also give off carbon dioxide, which the algae use to produce oxygen. These shrimp are the easiest pets you’ll ever have—just put the handcrafted glass container somewhere it can access light and witness the harmony of the natural world.
(Range from $79 to $489, eco-sphere.com)
(Range from $55 to 145, abuntantearth.com)
littleBits Base Kit
Ever stop to think about how electricity actually works? Electricity can’t flow unless there’s a closed circuit—a contained loop for a flow of electrons. Electric circuits are like our circulatory systems: blood vessels carry the flow of blood through your body; electrons carry current through the circuit. Circuits can be huge power systems transmitting megawatts of power over a thousand miles or tiny microelectronic chips containing millions of transistors. littleBits takes the soldering, wiring, and programming out of circuitry (they’re kid friendly!) and allows your imagination to run wild designing electrical models that light up, move, twist, shake and more. This base kit is great starting ground, with over 150,000 circuit combinations possible.
Aquaponics is a sustainable farming system that combines traditional agriculture with hydroponics. Instead of using soil, the necessary nutrients are dissolved into water, and the plant’s roots are suspended in, flooded with, or misted with the solution. By bringing agriculture into the mix, AquaFarm makes this process even simpler. AquaFarm places a small garden—with herbs or decorative plants of your choosing—above a fish tank. Fish naturally produce ammonia-rich waste. Beneficial bacteria convert the ammonia into nitrates, which is then pumped into the plant bed above, cleaning the tank and feeding the plants. This minimal-fuss system will give you a happy pet and some delicious herbs of your choosing.
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