Our staff put together some of their favorite presents that show off the wonders of nature —and help you preserve them.
Scientific exploration isn’t just about the big things out there (stars, planets, galaxies); it can also be about the very small. The microscopic world is full of beautiful wonders, and this inexpensive paper microscope kit is the perfect tool to discover them. The Foldscope comes with a microscope (which can attach to a smartphone camera for photos), carrying case, and tools and slides for collecting and studying samples.
“I know so many biologists, including myself, who had a start by just looking under a microscope, and there is a sense of wonder that you can’t place,” Manu Prakash, a Stanford bioengineering professor who helped invent the Foldscope, told Vox in 2016. If you know a budding biologist, this gift is for them. And you can feel extra good buying it: Part of the sales goes to providing Foldscopes to people around the world who can’t afford scientific equipment. ($40)
—Brian Resnick, science reporter
2018 has been a good year for NASA: The space agency is celebrating its 60th anniversary while prepping launch of a new mission to study the interior of Mars, and soaking up the nostalgia with the release of First Man, the film about the 1969 moon landing starring Ryan Gosling. Fashion companies have also been making the most of the NASA brand’s revival. The sneaker giant Vans has released a new collection of footwear called “Space Voyager,” which it says was inspired by the original spacesuits. The line includes shoes that are weather-resistant and well-lined, as well as hoodies and adorable kids’ shoes. (Vans, $110)
—Eliza Barclay, science editor
Almost all our food is stored and transported in plastics. And unfortunately, there’s mounting scientific evidence that these materials leach chemicals into what we eat and drink in ways that could harm our health. So health experts are increasingly urging people to avoid plastics that contain BPA, PVC, or phthalates, and to opt for glass food storage containers. There’s good news: Stylish and easy-to-transport alternatives to plastic containers have flooded the market. Check out the BentGo series of lunchboxes. Inspired by bento boxes, they’re made from glass, with lids that contain only food-safe plastic. ($22)
—Julia Belluz, senior health correspondent
Here’s a mind-boggling fact: Almost all mammals fart, yet the sloth does not. You’ll learn this if you read Does It Fart? A Definitive Field Guide to Animal Flatulence. It’s a small (133 pages), illustrated compendium of all things that toot. Each page of the book is devoted to one animal and one question: “Does it fart?” Orangutans? Yes. Salamanders? Maybe. Sloths? No.
But the book isn’t just bathroom humor. Written by a pair of wildlife biologists, Does It Fart cleanly explains the science of digestion and fascinating aspects of animal behavior. (Did you know manatees hold on to their farts to remain buoyant in the water?) In all, the book helps you appreciate the diverse ways wildlife has evolved to deal with passing gas. ($15)
Despite being a digital, eco-friendly notebook that looks and feels very much like regular paper, it has a companion app that, while slightly buggy, makes it easy to scan and save your doodles and notes for posterity. The app can be configured to upload your notes to Google Drive, Dropbox, or other storage services. ($34)
—Kavya Sukumar, news apps developer
Scientists’ ability to study and visualize the cosmos is getting better and better, and the same is true for artists’ renderings of distant stars, planets, and galaxies. Fortunately, the folks over at Phaidon Press, with the help of an international panel of experts, have curated an extraordinary collection of paintings, photographs, sculpture, animation, prints, sketches, and digital renderings in Universe. Prepare for some mind expansion of the highest magnitude. ($60)
For the straw lover in your life, why not give some stylish straws that don’t contribute to plastic pollution in the ocean? Greens Steel’s metal versions come in a pack of four — two straight and two bent — along with a brush for cleaning. With this gift, every time your loved one enjoys a smoothie or iced coffee, they won’t be expanding their environmental footprint. ($10)
For the casual astronomer who wants to admire the night sky from their backyard, you can’t do much better than this compact 5-inch, 130mm f/5 reflector telescope and mount for $200. According to Space.com, “Under a sufficiently dark sky, this telescope’s 5.1 inches (13 centimeters) of aperture — very big for the price — will reveal the unexpectedly extensive width of the Andromeda galaxy.” If you buy one from Astronomers Without Borders, the profits will go straight to its global astronomy programs. (Astronomers Without Borders, $199)
We may have less than a dozen years to limit global warming to a marginally more tolerable catastrophe, but if you still feel an insatiable drive to consume driven by the miasma of capitalism that enshrouds us all, why not plant a tree? Nature has already invented wonderful solar-powered devices that suck carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere and store it in the ground.
You can donate to the National Forest Foundation to plant trees in National Forests for about a dollar per tree. But if you want to specifically offset greenhouse gas emissions, Cool Effect supports a variety of projects around the world, from restoring mangroves to providing clean cookstoves, and lets you donate to match a specific quantity of CO2.
—Umair Irfan, science reporter