The first annual holiday gift-giving guide from Eco-Evo Lab

Buying gifts when you have to buy gifts is hard. For this holiday season, I’ve put together a list of ideas for your scientifically inclined loved ones (although many of these gifts would be great for anyone). The first five are personal favorites.

Number 1

Top on my list is this molecular-inspired jewelry (which, by the way, includes cufflinks, key chains, tree ornaments and more) created by Raven Hanna. During a particularly unpleasant time in her life, Hanna, a molecular biologist, found beauty in the aesthetic of a serotonin molecule and comfort in its symbolic representation of happiness. She made it into a necklace and then had happiness on her at all times. Inspired by the fact that many molecules function in ways that could be adopted as meaningful personal symbols, she began expanding her jewelry-making practice. Hanna wants it to be a way to communicate science to everyone, so she attempts to maintain the scientific integrity of the molecules without losing the aesthetic. As a tool for teaching, she includes a notecard with each piece to explain its underlying molecular function.

I suggest sharing some happiness with this serotonin necklace, showing someone how much you rely on them with these DNA/RNA base pair friendship necklaces, or poke fun at that friend who drinks too much coffee with these caffeine earrings (and Mom… if you’re reading this). Hanna also features an annual holiday special: this year is vanillin, last was cinnamaldehyde. Some of the other molecules include chlorophyll, dopamine, oxytocin, testosterone and theobromine. I’ve included some other science-inspired jewelry after my top 5 (see # 15 and 17).

Serotonin Cufflinks Chlorophyll and Heme Necklaces Base Pair Earrings


Number 2

Second on my list are these pencils that become plants…but not just any plants, tasty plants. Instead of throwing away your pencil when you can no longer hold it, you can plant it in a small pot and get one of 12 delicious herbs for your kitchen: basil, coriander, dill, mint, rosemary, sage, thyme, cherry tomato, green pepper, calendula, marigold or forget-me-not. Pairing some of these pencils with a small planter for the chef or the foodie in your life would make a thoughtful gift (or as the company responsible, Sprout, suggests, to help the friend who chews on the ends of pencils kick the habit).

Sprout is also working on offering a “plant your paper” product. With this, you can send someone flowers with no more than a card or an invitation. Note: Be conscientious of what type of flower you are sending and where (I don’t want to be responsible for encouraging any exotic species introductions!).

Plant your Pencil- Basil image thanks to

Plant your Pencil: Basil


Number 3

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings is third on my list. It is an award-winning book by science and environmental journalist Caspar Henderson. You may have heard of Jorge Luis Borges’s 1957 Book of Imaginary Beingsin which over 100 creatures from myths and folklore were compiled into one book with sketches and descriptions. Borges included many familiar mythical creatures such as fairies or Lewis Carroll’s Cheshire Cat, to lesser-known creatures such as hippogriffs and mandrakes (both of which were recently made famous by J.K. Rowling… sorry Buckbeak, you weren’t the first). Henderson read this book and became hung up on the fact that many of these fantasy creatures, products of the human imagination, weren’t actually that strange. And that’s how he came up with the idea for The Book of Barely Imagined Beings.

In the introduction Henderson quotes Richard Feynman: “Our imagination is stretched to the utmost not, as in fiction, to imagine things which are not really there, but just to comprehend those things which are there” to suggest that evolutionary theory makes the world a clearer place, and a place in which our imagination may be actually be stretched further. Really, it’s just as Darwin said: “there is a grandeur in this view of life”. Evolutionary biology is a major theme throughout this grown-up alphabet book, in which Henderson presents one real creature (extant or extinct) for each letter, A-Z. For each animal, he presents a bit of natural history and evolution, as well as a bit of culture, philosophy and historical human behavior towards the animal.

This large 448-page book is awesome for anyone who has any kind of interest in anything!

The Book of Barely Imagined Beings image thanks to R is for Right Whale, image thanks to


Number 4

The fourth gift idea on my list is a bit pricier ($160), but would be a great (and an admittedly selfish) gift for a family member. Give them the opportunity to participate in science by having their mitochondrial DNA sequenced and also the opportunity to get information about their ancestry with National Geographic’s “The Genographic Project”.

What you physically give is the “Geno 2.0 DNA Test kit”. But what you’re actually giving is amazing information about ancestry— this includes information about ancestral migration paths and the percentage of the genome associated with different regions of the world. All they have to do is swab their cheek and send it to the project’s scientists for analysis of nearly 150,000 DNA markers. There is a lot more to this project (what they do with the money, information about confidentiality, etc.) that you can read about on the site.

Genographic Migration, from National Geographic


Number 5

The last thing on my list made the cut because, in my mind, it’s a classic. Giant Microbes, if you haven’t heard, are giant stuffed toys (microbes) enlarged about a million times their actual size. These are not only hilarious (check out one of the two Valentine’s Day packages –“Heart Burned” which includes Herpes, Pox, HPV, Chlamydia and Penicillin) but they’re also educational (they come with a photograph and information about the real microbe). Their normal size fits in your hand, but they come in “mini” (~3 inches) and “gigantic” (~2 feet). There is also a holiday-package of microbes embellished with elf-ears, candy-canes, reindeer antlers, mistletoe, etc.

Try a brain cell (neuron) for your brainy friend, a bookworm (Anobium punctatum) for your bookworm-friend, or yeast (Saccharomyces cerevisiae) for your beer-loving friend.

Giant Holiday Microbes Collection of Giant Microbes Brain Cell from Giant Microbes


That’s it for my Top 5. But here are some additional suggestions:


6. Anything from But realistically, the gift idea from this site that caught my attention was dinopet— an apatosaurus-shaped micro aquarium used to hold bioluminescent dinoflagellates. Dinopet may be the only affordable gift on the site, but while you’re there, at least look at the cool DNA wall-art.


7. Give the gift of discovery again (like #4), but this time, in exploring the microbiome!


8. These cosmological-inspired pillows by “geographyhandmade” (also a few inspired by Ernst Haeckle and terrains).


9. These scientific wooden cutting boards by “Elysium Woodworks”.


10. This test-tube tea infuser. Along these lines, mugs are another classic…


11. A water-powered bedside clock (some even have function as a vase).


12. If you like the Dinopet idea (# 6), but not the Dinopet itself, check out these Eco-spheres. These self-sustaining ecosystems contain shrimp, algae and bacteria. They look quite nice on a shelf. Had I made a top 6, this would have made it.


13. The book An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed by Josie Iselin: a collection of flatbed scanner images of over 200 algal specimens collected from the coasts of California and Maine.


14. The book EarthArt, by Bernhard Edmaier: a collection of photographs of the earth surface divided into color-coded chapters, explaining “how, where and why” of the colors.


15. This cool skull jewelry that has been created from CT scans of real human and animal skulls.


16. If you know someone who is into 3D printing, you could gift up these instructions to 3D-print-your-head-and-make-a-beer-mug!


17. This cool ceramic science jewelry inspired by biology, anatomy and microbiology.


18. This I “heart” Science tee, or other science-inspired tee-shirts from “nonfictiontees”.


That’s it for this year. It would have been easy to keep going… so we might make this an annual feature. Please leave comments and include links to your favorite science gifts!

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