December 2011

Gifts for geeks



Unless we’re asked to buy a specific gift for a loved one, there is a good chance that the gift we give will unconsciously reflect our own wants. I could never understand why my wife didn’t appreciate the ergonomic snow shovel ( I bought her, until I defended the gift so much that I realized I was the one who wanted it.

Geeky_Gifts_yellow_tThe same can be said for attempting to convert children to adopt our own interests. We imprint upon them what we endorse. Scientists are no exception. Maybe because our work undergoes constant scrutiny, is battered by skepticism, and is viewed with suspicion by large portions of the public, we seek validation in any form anywhere. Why else would someone give a baby a onesie advertising the periodic table abbreviations of barium, boron and yttrium? (

Geeky_Gifts_Cufflinks Geeky_Gifts_science__shirt But rare is the person who enjoys their work so much that their vocation comes unattached to an avocation. If this is you, you don’t mind wearing your interests on your sleeve or chest (). But better to leave the cufflinks ( alone: you want only to show your science pride, not alienate people at parties — unless, of course, you’re a science geek!

This holiday season, there are many cool gifts for geeks, and if you count yourself and friends among them, take notes on the following gift ideas!

Geeky_Gifts_omnomnogom_shirtOne thing I’ll be picking up for my kid is the Omnomnomagon T-shirt (, which might not qualify accurately as geeky, but it’s close enough for rock ‘n’ roll. If you’re not clued into “Omnomnom,” check out this Youtube video (, which was all the rage a year ago. It’s OK, I’ll wait for you to view it and then you can continue reading….

OK, done? “Omnomnom” has serious legs, like “Who shot JR?” or “Where’s the beef?” from long ago. Ergo, your kids will love the Omnomnomagon shirt and will appreciate your hipness, but of course they’ll never tell you.

 Geeky_Gifts_In_Da_HoodGeeky_Gifts_bacteria_shirtT-shirts are the original geek wear that elicit groans or nods. “Microbiologists in da hood” ( and the “Bacteria” T-shirts ( celebrate the lonely work of the E. coli jockey. The “10 Types of people” T-shirt promotes computer science, or rather, computer language literacy ( Geeky_Gifts_grad_schoolGeeky_Gifts_Computer_sci_TWhereas “Grad school” (, admittedly, is a rip-off of John Belsuhi’s “College” T-shirt in Animal House, but it’s a fun reminder of working 70-hour weeks and earning sub-minimum wage. 

Geeky_Gifts_resveratrol_necklaceGeeky_Gifts_peace_cardRegarding jewelry, cool necklaces bearing chemical structures as pendants are so geeky they’re “chic-y.” At, you’ll find a variety of necklaces sporting the chemical structures of neurotransmitters or of amino acid residues such that their single-letter designations spell words of your choosing. Geeky_Gifts_oxytocin_necklaceIf they’d add ornithine, they could spell words containing the letter “O,” too.  I like the “peace” greeting card, myself ( Also check out this website for your dose of red-wine goodness. Resveratrol can be had here ( or, if you prefer, the oxytocin necklace ( seller on, Geeky_Gifts_Periodic_Table_necklacewhose wares include the cufflinks and onesie above, also sells periodic table necklaces, with more than 100 elements available (

Geeky_Gifts_houseflyOf the frequently overdone plush toys, the one plushie I advocate unreservedly is the housefly ( Unfortunately, they don’t offer a fruit fly plush toy. I honestly think they’d sell a ton of them, but, until that time, buy the housefly. First of all, its cute factor equals its creepy factor. Second, and more importantly, if you’ve ever seen the great comedy movie “Bedazzled” – no, not the lousy remake – with Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, your memory will instantly be jogged to the housefly scene.

Geeky_Gifts_things_that_kill_you_bookAre you a sadist masquerading as a helpful friend? Well, that’s your business, but if you know a hypochondriac, consider buying her “The Complete Manual of Things that Might Kill You” ( The recipient of this book will either wallow deeper in mortal frailty or will thank you for understanding her precarious health. Either way, she’ll delve into this self-diagnosis book. is really the home of geekdom. You can spend hours on its site – I have, I’m a geek! – salivating over the possibilities. They offer a magnet-powered top that spins. That’s not geeky. What is geeky is that it spins for nearly a week (! You can pretend you’re Leonardo DiCaprio in “Inception.” And you’ll have a way of determining whether you’re in the dream world or the real world. Contemplate: Am a I human dreaming I’m a butterfly, or am I a butterfly dreaming I’m a human dreaming I’m a butterfly?  

Geeky_Gifts_TarantulaThe other gift my kid will receive is the hexbug Nano (, a battery-powered crawly thing – think cockroach meets computer chip, without the gross factor. But for a geeky gross-out, give the gift that reinforces arachnophobia (! The edible oven-baked tarantula is the perfect stocking stuffer – especially when removed from its packaging. Hey, they’re a delicacy in Cambodia!

Geeky_Gifts_mega_puzzleKnow a Rubik’s cube hound that lords it over everybody? He can’t help reliving the glory minute of when he solved it in 14.83 seconds, and he never fails to remind you of it every time he sees you. I say bring ‘em down to Earth with the Megaminx dodecahedron ( Twelve sides of hell on an overgrown Dungeons and Dragons die. Solve this one, Biff!



Now, let’s talk about something serious. You can take geekdom too far. When done so, the cuteness of geekdom is replaced by contempt. A contempt so great it may take years for you to get back in the good graces of your friends. Purchasing any of these three items would push you far beyond the safe zone. These are available at; I won’t place their images here because to do so would risk my own reputation. Suffice it to mention in increasing order of geekiness beyond the pale, the Star Trek Enterprise bottle opener, the Star Trek Enterprise pizza cutter, and, unholy of unholies, the Doctor Who Dalek Projection clock. I need a bath….

Geeky_Gifts_mugGeeky_Gifts_neuro_mug I’ve saved my favorite, the cutest, and the coolest for the last geek gift ideas. My life requires constant boluses of methylxanthines, preferably caffeine. I’ve never turned down a good cup of coffee, and what better to drink from than a geek mug? My personal favorite is the neurotransmitter mug (, although has many others, such as the neurotoxin mug, that are pretty cool, too!

Geeky_Gifts_plush_toyFor the cutest, we go back to plush toys! These nucleotide bases have magnets that attract each other at the proper hydrogen bonding sites, and they look so precious! Aww! The catch is that the designer, Jun Axup, is still raising money for the project. You can help her out and and watch her video about the project ( Heck, she even says that she’s “hoping these dolls will allow scientists to celebrate their geekiness”!

Geeky_Gifts_walking_weevilsThe coolest geek gift is a complete collection of walking weevils — real weevils. Talk about (once) living art! You’ll drop nearly 400 bucks (295 euros) for these beauties, but if you can wait out the possible collapse of the euro, you’ll be able to pick them up on the cheap (

Geeky_Gifts_make_magHere’s a bonus idea, just because I like you. The magazine Make ( has lots of projects that families can work on together. They’re more engineering than science, but they are geeky nonetheless. And having a group project means everybody can share the fun and the excitement of completing a project together. Issue 28 showcases toys and games, so hurry up and build a trebuchet, a giant bubble blower or a video spy copter. Did I mention the DIY Van de Graaff generator (

Enjoy the holidays, and remember it’s not what you buy but the happiness you make and the experiences you share!

John Nelson ( is the editor of ASBMB Today.


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