Ah, the winter holiday season: a time of carols and cheer, of love and friendship, a time characterized by multicultural potlucks, one too many cookies (if that’s possible) and, for graduate students, hammering out who’s going to come in to feed the cells over the break (see you New Year’s Eve, little buddies!). Now, if you’re a last-minute gift-giver or struggling with what to get your quirky-but-lovable nerdy friends, you’re probably delighted that Buzzfeed published its annual list of best gifts for science geeks. Gizmodo has another one, and if you’re really having trouble, you can’t go wrong with pretty much anything on ThinkGeek. The Internet’s got your back, friend of nerds! Never fear! And so you breathe a sigh of relief, and trust that your gift will arrive by your holiday of choice.
But what if you’re looking for a more focused gift? What if you want to find a special something for your favorite neuroscientist, clinical neurologist, or enthusiastic neuro-nerd? Despite the apparent absence of a list detailing such gifts – I even Googled to check – there exists a multitude of smaller artists and designers making beautiful, fun, neuroscience-themed work, and these folks are worth supporting. Some of them presented at the Society for Neuroscience Art Show this year, while others I’ve simply stumbled across while browsing.
Promote oxytocin. Give neuroscience.
- Neurocomic. This lovely little graphic novel is the product of two neuroscientists:
Dr. Hana Ros, a neuroscience research fellow at University College, London, and Dr. Matteo Farinella, a neuroscientist-turned-scientific illustrator also based out of London. Together, they narrate (and illustrate) a journey through the brain in which the reader is guided by Nobel laureates, Pavlov and his dog, and a host of other neuroscientists, psychologists, and even model organisms. This delightful little tome, while targeted for a lay audience, would make a lovely addition to a neuroscientist’s coffee table. $18.12 on Amazon.com.
- Neuron bottle openers.
A key accessory for any graduate student or aspiring host(ess), these magnetic bottle openers from Etsy retailer MyWifeYourWife feature a print of a pyramidal neuron, complete with axon(s) and dendrites. Attach it to your fridge and never forget where your bottle opener has gone! $5.62 on Etsy.
- The neuroscience tie. As long as we’re talking neuroscience accessories, let’s
get swanky and sartorial! And if we’re getting sartorial, don’t miss Etsy retailer Cyberoptix. Feel free to drool a little over the wonderfully geek chic scarves and ties in their online storefront, and then check out the Nervous Energy and Insomnia ties; respectively, the ties feature silkscreen prints of neurons (complete with nodes of Ranvier) and of the brain rhythms recorded in different sleep stages by electroencephalography (EEG). Perfect for a night out on the town… or a thesis defense. And if you’re more of a bow tie guy (or gal!), then don’t worry: you can get a sulcus ’round your neck! $30 for Nervous Energy/$40 for Brainstorm bow tie/$45 for silk Insomnia tie on Etsy.
- Anything at all from Backyard Brains. ANYTHING.
If you don’t know Backyard Brains yet, then my goodness, you should. Started by graduate students at the University of Michigan in 2009 with the goal of making neuroscience learning more accessible, the company has since expanded internationally, run a successful Kickstarter campaign to build a the RoboRoach, and exhibited at the annual Society for Neuroscience conference to increasing acclaim. With their various kits, you can control the movements of a cockroach, measure electrical responses in your muscles, observe action potentials in insects and other invertebrates, and more. Their tagline is “Neuroscience for Everyone,” and they certainly mean it; their products (as well as suggested experiments) are now available for purchase by classrooms, museums, and individual learners. Prices vary (but start at $99.99).
- Caffeine necklace. Caffeine is the world’s
most widely used psychoactive drug, and here it’s been beautifully worked into necklace form by Etsy artist Delftia. Witness America’s favorite alkaloid in sterling silver, sitting slightly off-center in a little coffee cup. I’m ready for my next cup already! Check out the rest of her store for other neat scientific accessories, including a gold-plated Golden Ratio necklace, a horizontal section of the human brain, the tree of life, and more. $48 on Etsy.
- 3-D printed neurons. Got a 3-D printer, or a friend
you could bribe with beer or baked goods and who might let you use her printer? Then head on over to Yale SenseLab’s 3DModelDB and download a plethora of printable neuronal models. The models are available as an extension of the ModelDB project, and feature the proper code to print a variety of neuronal types and morphologies. Maybe spray-paint them gold, if you’re into that. Or electric blue! Or use them as ornaments on your favorite multicultural holiday shrubbery. FREE(!) from Yale’s SenseLab project, unless you feel the need to purchase a 3D printer to be able to print these – in which case, VERY EXPENSIVE.
- Advice for a Young Investigator, by Santiago Ramon y Cajal. Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a Spanish neuroscientist and Nobel laureate,
and was (and is) considered the father of modern neuroanatomy. Advice for a Young Investigator, first published in 1897, endeavors to educate the new scientist in how he should practice his art, and is full of practical advice and no small amount of humor. While some of the material is a little dated (for example, the description of the ideal wife), the book itself is a quick and enjoyable read, and a perfect pick-me-up from one of the original greats of neuroscience. Trust yourself and your own abilities, and question everything, RyC advises; we promise that we shall do so. $14.39 on Amazon.com.
- Phosphorescent knit neuron. If you’re the artsy-craftsy type, then you might
want to check out this quick little knitting pattern on Ravelry, the knitting and crochet database, from Gabrielle Thériault. Knit your very own neuron for friends, for yourself, or perhaps just to hang in your window to keep out pseudoscience. That’s how that works, right? Pattern is free on Ravelry; cost is in knitting materials only. As the neuron can be made from yarn of any weight desired, this project would be a great use for leftover yarn that you might have lying around from other projects.
- Rice krispie brains. Because no gift-giving occasion is complete without a few
delicious snacks here and there, your next sweet treat is a no-brainer: rice krispie brains from Etsy retailer CrazyBrainChocolate. These cute little guys may not be totally anatomically accurate – krispie matter versus pink matter isn’t quite how it works – but don’t let the neuroanatomy get in the way of your enjoyment. Stuff them in a stocking, extract them from their box as though you’re a ravenous zombie… whatever makes you happy! Also available as Nutella-walnut brains, cake brains, and more! Prices vary for the various brain sweets sold by the shop, but start at $12 on Etsy.
- A piece of Greg Dunn artwork. As far as I’m concerned, Dr. Greg Dunn’s phenomenal work is the apex of neuroscience-inspired science/art.
He’s a neuroscientist-turned-artist and has been commissioned to create pieces for research institutes, universities, non-profit organizations, and more. His latest forays into the beautifully complicated technique of microetching need to be seen in person to be believed (trust me – it’s a totally different experience than seeing it online). If you can’t afford to shell out the $4000 for a gold leaf painting, or the approximately $35,000 for a microetching, then head over to his prints and, if you’re a graduate student, ask for the graduate student discount. You won’t regret it.
Happy holidays, all! -EGB