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Everyday science

Festive gift ideas for your physics-loving friends and family

20 Dec 2019 Matin Durrani

Stuck for ideas for your festive shopping list? Matin Durrani has some last-minute physics-themed suggestions for you

Photo of chroedingers cat in a box present
What's inside? The Schrödinger's cat gift

A few weeks ago I was chatting to CERN physicist Kate Kahle about CERN Courier, which IOP Publishing (publisher of Physics World) publishes on behalf of the Geneva-based lab.

I happened to notice Kate was wearing a fantastic shirt covered in mathematical equations, which she told me came from the specialist Paris-based online store Coton Doux. Envious, I looked online and was pleased to find it’s also available for men offering “elegance and unusualness in a perfect equation”.

Now I’m not saying I’d buy the shirt myself, but it got me thinking: what physics-themed presents would be perfect for the physicists among your family and friends? Well, who better to ask than the Physics World editorial team themselves!

So Kate Gardner has spotted some great LEGO space R&D sets, these cool science-themed XKCD T-shirts, plus Andrea Beaty’s book Ada Twist, Scientist. Aimed at children aged 4–8, the book won the 2017 Little Rebels Award in its attempts to upend science stereotypes.

Tushna Commissariat, our resident science-fiction nut, sent me a huge wish-list, which includes this funky Apollo 11 lunar lander, a 20-cm diameter particle accelerator clock (er, right), some wooden Higgs boson coasters, and this Schrödinger’s cat in a box, which apparently is a “very unique present for the special geek, nerd or cat person in your life”. The box contains a 1-inch-square cat enamel pin that’s either dead or alive until you choose to open the box (or not if you’d rather stay in limbo). Tushna also suggests this “Map of the Universe” sculpture, which is “officially the smallest-scale commercially available map ever made”. (I think I’ll stick with the Coton Doux shirt.)

Michael Banks has his eyes on this Playmobil Space 9487 Mars space station, ideal for children ages 6+. I’m only worried that it contains a “187-piece play figure set” and a further 183 accessories, which are bound to be lost down the back of the settee before you know where you are.

Margaret Harris says her older niece is getting the book Rosie Revere Engineer, also by Andrea Beaty, in which quiet-by-day Rosie turns at night into “a brilliant inventor of gizmos and gadgets who dreams of becoming a great engineer”. Margaret’s younger niece, aged not quite two, also “wants” a good science-based alphabet book if Margaret can find one that is.

Sarah Tesh, meanwhile, fancies some science-themed jewellery from Boutique Academia, including a π-to-35 decimals necklace, earrings featuring the iconic image of a black-hole taken by the Event Horizon Telescope earlier this year, and an atomic-physics necklace boasting a “dark grey Swarovski pearl on a hand-wrapped silver wire” that apparently “matches everything, from T-shirts to prom dresses”.

Over in the US, the Institute for Systems Biology has drawn up its own gift list, which includes this cool solar-system crystal ball, a DIY kit that lets you insert a jellyfish gene into bacteria, creating bacteria that glows green when you shine a light on them, as well as these interesting “science pants” – not underwear, but trousers featuring “prints of real microscopic cellular images digitally printed on organic, recycled fabric”.

Our friends at the American Physical Society, meanwhile, have got plenty of gifts on offer, including this red T-shirt featuring the slogan “If this shirt is blue, you’re going too fast”. Now that made me smile, so APS, if you’re listening, I’ll have one please!

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