Uranium marbles glow under ultraviolet light in a picture taken by MakerBot Industries co-founder Bre Pettis.
How about a dinosaur skull for the holidays? Or a handful of glow-in-the-dark uranium marbles? Cast your vote and help us crown the geekiest gift for the holiday season.
The gift suggestions for this year's Science Geek Guide are in line with a proud tradition here at msnbc.com. You can always find guides to Black Friday tech deals, or the top 20 toys of 2011, or the hottest holiday hostess gifts. But where else can get a line on a nuclear-powered plaything, or a six-dimensional paperweight, or brains to fit your budget?
Even better, this is a geek gift guide created by geeks for geeks, with some geeky prizes thrown into the bargain. Last week I put out the call for suggestions, and it'll be up to you to select the coolest, most offbeat prize from the top 10. The geek who made the top-rated suggestion will be eligible to receive a pile of books, including "Science Ink," "The Cult of Lego," "The Physics Book" and "The Case for Pluto" (autographed by yours truly).
Here are this year's 10 finalists:
Uranium marbles: "Nothing says Merry Christmas like a little bit of radiation," says Richard-1971294. He'd love to get his hands on some uranium marbles. Back in the old days, pigments containing uranium oxide were used in lots of items, including ceramic glazes, green-tinted glassware and, yes, children's marbles. Black Light World, which sells a three-pack of uranium-doped marbles for $9.95, says they're "totally safe" — even though radioactive caution stickers are plastered all over the promotional images. You can also find 'em on eBay.
A carnotaurus skull is flanked by a scale replica, available from the Dinosaur Corporation.
Dinosaur skulls: "Dino skull replicas are cool and geeky!" David Flowers tweeted in his response to the call for entries. The Dinosaur Corporation offers a wide selection of skulls, molded out of polyurethane resin to look like the real thing ... only smaller. If you're looking for a real dinosaur skull, that'll cost you. A T. rex skull sold for $215,000 in March (and some dino dung went for $1,200). Flowers also put a naked mole rat plushie on his geek-gift wish list.
The Elements Vault: "Physics is hot these days, but for lovers of chemistry, this kit from Theodore Gray will be a real treat." says KGill. "His gorgeous book about the elements, 'The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe,' showcased the elegance of the periodic table, and the beauty of the elements. This collection incudes new text and photographs, reproductions of historic documents, a pop-up model of an atom, and samples of several elements."
Magnifying glasses and other optics: "Nothing beats a brand new magnifying glass," says Jennifer Hancock, a Humanist author and speaker. "They get cruddy after a while, always nice to have a new one." Here's the set she has her eye on. Oh, and she wouldn't mind getting a hand-held microscope and illuminator, plus a snazzy pair of binoculars. In her Twitter profile, Hancock calls herself a dork, but she sounds like a bona fide geek to me. There is a difference.
NASA / JPL
Flaunt your Martian pride with a JPL lunchbox.
Mars rover lunchbox: Lights in the Dark blogger Jason Major says anything from ThinkGeek will do the trick, but he'd sure like to get a $20 Mars Exploration Rover lunchbox from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory's online store. Space geeks of the female persuasion might consider some Red Planet earrings in honor of the about-to-be-launched Mars Science Laboratory mission.
USB microscope: "A USB microscope, with the ability to capture images digitally, is a great geek gift!" says Paliniasky. There's a mind-boggling selection, ranging from less than $20 to astronomical prices.
Plush microbes: "GiantMicrobes are way awesome and super cute — stuffed animal versions of microorganisms," says biology student Kelsey Plesniak, a member of the Cosmic Log corps on Facebook. As we head into flu season, what better gift could you give a microbiology geek than ... a cuddly flu bug?
Wi-Fi detector shirt: This $14.99 ThinkGeek T-shirt has a decal that glows to indicate the signal strength of wireless networks in the area. "My son the math teacher bought one of these earlier this year," George Buddy Dow says on Facebook. "Inexpensive and practical." Just don't forget to remove the decal and the battery pack before you put it in the wash. Dow also puts in a plug for the "Ant Farm Revolution," which sounds like an entomological Occupy movement.
Cut a slice with the starship Enterprise.
Star Trek pizza cutter: Joel Davis casts his vote for a $29.99 ThinkGeek kitchen accessory that promises to "boldly cut pizza where no man has cut before." It's as if you're holding a miniaturized starship Enterprise in the palm of your hand. Come to think of it, I've seen that episode.
Pi plate: "A pi plate is available. To make pies in," Jan Smith writes. "Has a large pi symbol in the center and the numbers 3.14159... etc., all around the edge of the plate. I got one for my son." Here's an alternate design for the pi plate. Any way you slice it, this will be a good kitchen item to have around for March 14 ... Pi Day.
Extra credit: You'll find all sorts of geeky (and not-so-geeky) gift ideas by following the links below, and you'll also want to check out our holiday book roundup. You might also consider supporting The Illuminated Origin of Species, an effort by artist/naturalist Kelly Houle to create an illuminated manuscript of Charles Darwin's masterwork in the spirit of the Book of Kells. To support the effort, Houle is offering sets of Darwin-themed greeting cards, beetle prints and an adopt-a-beetle program.
Don't forget to cast a vote for your favorite gift among the top 10, and may the best geek win!
Previous Science Geek Gift Guides:
- The gift of science (2002)
- For the scientist who has everything (2002)
- Toy traditions go back to the future (2003)
- Your toys will be assimilated (2004)
- Gifts for space geeks (2004)
- Find your star (2005)
- The top gift for science geeks (2006)
- Season's readings for kids ... and for grown-ups (2007)
- The top geek gift of 2008
- Gifts from the sixth dimension (2009)
- Make your own geeky goodness (2010)
More science gifts:
- Edmund Scientific: The classic science store
- Educational Innovations
- Exploratorium Science Gift Guide 2011
- GeekDad Holiday Gift Guide 2011
- Home Science Tools gift guide
- Imagination Soup math and science gifts
- MakeZine Holiday Gift Guide
- Robot Snob suggestions for robotics fans
- Sheldon Shirts: Big Bang Theory gifts
- ThinkGeek: Stuff for smart masses
- xkcd store
- Zazzle gifts for geeks ... and "Big Bang" fans
Update for 4:45 p.m. ET Nov. 23: Thanks so much for your votes. Looks like it could be a close contest. The top Science Geek Gift of 2011 will be selected based on the tally as of noon ET Sunday, and announced in a follow-up item on Monday.
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.