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Guide us to your Science Geek Gifts

Particle Zoo

Will plush neutrino toys become hot little numbers for the holidays because of the recent faster-than-light claims?

We science geeks aren't exactly experts at gift-giving (or gift-getting) during the holidays — just ask Sheldon Cooper from TV's "The Big Bang Theory. "It's no wonder suicide rates skyrocket this time of year," he says.

That's where the 10th annual Science Geek Gift Guide comes in. We turn to you for guidance on geek giftitude, offer up the top suggestions for your approval, and send a box of books to the science geek who comes up with the top-rated suggestion.

This holiday season could be an especially good one if you have a yen for particle physics: There's a lot of buzz about the search for the Higgs boson's hiding place, as well as the evidence for faster-than-light neutrinos. So what better place to turn for a totem than the Particle Zoo, which sells plush subatomic particles (larger than actual size) as well as other cosmic toys and cards.

"The Higgs is by far the top seller," Particle Zookeeper Julie Peasley told me today, "but dark matter is pretty high up there." Other top-sellers include photons, strange and charmed quarks, tachyons and the cosmic microwave background radiation. Peasley hasn't noticed that sales are affected by the ebb and flow of discoveries in physics — all she knows is that the Particle Zoo is about to head into its rush season.

"I don't have a life for two months," she said.

The handmade particle plushies are not recommended for kids under 5, but there are plenty of other options for your budding Einstein — including Baby's Nuclear Physics Book, a $51 cloth creation available from Verdant Violet via Etsy. The online shop also offers soft books about molecular genetics, neuroscience, paleontology, microbiology and physical anthropology, but you may have to put an I.O.U. under the tree. Current shipping time is six to eight weeks.

There's plenty more at Etsy for older physics and space fans, including $25 Einstein cufflinks (do geeks wear dress shirts, let alone cufflinks?), a $10 handblown DNA pendant and all sorts of space-themed gifts.

If the geek on your list is entranced by the Large Hadron Collider, the pop-up book titled "Voyage to the Heart of Matter" ($24.75 from Amazon.com) might be just the ticket. The paper versions of the ATLAS detector, the collider ring and the big bang are a bit delicate, so I wouldn't advise leaving it on the little kids' table, but it makes a great conversation piece for students and grown-up geeks alike.

When it comes to space, one of the big topics for the year ahead is NASA's next mission to Mars, set for launch on the day after Thanksgiving. You'll find all sorts of Mars Science Laboratory paraphernalia on eBay, ranging from patches to wooden models of the Curiosity rover — or you can get your geeks a Lego set and have them build their own rover, as Tim Goddard and Xander R have done.

Are these enough suggestions to gear up the geeky side of your brain? Hope so, because now it's your turn. Leave your suggestions for the Science Geek Guide as comments below. There are a few categories we'll want to stay away from, because they're covered more closely by my colleagues. For example, don't suggest video games, or mobile devices, or other consumer electronics such as computers, TVs or DVD players. Books and DVDs are OK, although science books will be covered in an item next week.

I'll pick out some of the suggestions for your consideration in a follow-up item next week, and the top vote-getter as of noon ET on Nov. 28 will be crowned as the Science Geek Gift of the year. The person credited with suggesting the top gift will be eligible to receive a pile of books to warm a geek's heart, including "The Cult of Lego," "The Physics Book," "Science Ink" and an autographed copy of "The Case for Pluto." May the best geek win!

For further inspiration, here are some more suggestions (some of which may be outdated):

Previous Science Geek Gift Guides:

More science gifts:


You don't need to buy me a present. All I ask is that you connect with the Cosmic Log community by "liking" the log's Facebook page, following @b0yle on Twitter and adding the Cosmic Log page to your Google+ presence. You can also check out "The Case for Pluto," my book about the controversial dwarf planet and the search for new worlds.