The Best Gifts for Teens Who Love Science
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Teen Science GiftsIf you've got a teenager in your life, we at Live Science bet you're planning to get them a present soon. And if that teen is a big old science nerd, or just loves thinking and learning, we've got some great gift ideas to suggest.
These aren't science toys, they're things to read and build and explore with that will help your teen explore their universe, just like a scientist. The cheapest items on this list are just $15, but there options for those who like to splurge as well.
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Build a bikeMost teenagers have probably outgrown their Lego sets, but the urge to build things is no less strong. One great option: Gift them the materials to build their own bicycle. Jenni Gwiazdowski’s book “How to Build a Bike: A Simple Guide to Making Your Own Ride” will introduce kids (or adults) to the principles of bicycle mechanics, and with the help of beautiful photos teach them how to build their own single-speed ride. Help your teen pick out a steel frame from the 1980s (Old Schwinns, Treks, Cannondales, Bridgestones, and Miyatas are bombproof and gorgeous, just double check the sizing.), and then let them assemble it with new parts over the course of a month or two.
Gwiazdowski’s book is available from Amazon for $17.
Steel ‘80s frames and used bike parts can be sourced cheaply from eBay. Pick up the tools and new parts from your local bike shop.
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Build a rocketThink your teen would prefer to build something that requires a little less muscle power to move? A rocket kit is a great option. Estes makes a number of great options for all skill levels, but ambitious teens might enjoy an intermediate-level rocket like the Super Nova, which flies up to 1,500 feet (457 meters) using a two-stage system. Remember that engines and launchpads are sold cheaply, but separately.
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Build a computerWant to give your teen something a bit more practical (and expensive) than a model rocket? Hoping to save money on laptops? Get them the tools and parts to build their own basic desktop computer. Splurge on a graphics card, and they won't ask you again for an Xbox or Playstation. Live Science cousin site Tom’s Hardware has a guide to this project here. Get your teen started with a nice clear case so they can watch all the parts and lights in action, like the CORSAIR Carbide 275R pictured here.
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A telescopeIf your teen is more of an explorer than a builder, a telescope for viewing the night sky is a great option. Telescopes are a popular item with hobbyists, so there's a wide range of options available for different budgets. Live Science sister site Space.com has a rundown here. One great option is the fully manual Meade Polaris 130, pictured above, a gorgeous, capable instrument that might not break the bank.
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A microscopeIs your teen more interested in understanding the world around them than staring at Jupiter? A professional microscope is a great way to help them out with that task. The Omano Monocular Compound Microscope is easy to use and will reveal stunning hidden details of leaves, small insects, human hairs, food, or anything else your teen would like to study. Bet them their favorite dessert that they can't find a tardigrade on day one with the device.
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Radio kitAnother great gift for builders is a home AM/FM radio kit. The Elenco model comes with instructions, but requires soldering equipment that can be picked up cheaply separately. It’s a great way to introduce teens to the principles of electronics, soldering, and radio.
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Binoculars, hiking boots and a birding guideGizmodo wrote earlier this year that the Audobon Society's new Bird Guide app might be interesting enough to convince Pokemon Go players to switch over to spotting birds. The best thing about that app is that it's free. Think your teen might be interested? Set them up with some hiking shoes and a pair of quality binoculars like the Nikon Prostaff S3 8x42 (shown here), and then take them on an Audobon-guided birding adventure.
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Film camera and darkroom classWant to equip your teen to make beautiful images of those birds? Or help them explore their artistic side along with their scientific skills? A vintage 35 millimeter film camera is a great way to bridge that divide. The Canon AE-1 was a great single lens reflex device that can still be found on Etsy or eBay with compatible 50 millimeter lenses for about $180. And film has made comeback. Pick up some film and sign them up for a photography and darkroom class where they can learn the optics and chemistry of nailing exposures and turning those exposures into beautiful prints.
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National Geographic Trail MapsIf your teen has a camera or birding guide, they’ll need somewhere to use them. One of the best tools around for finding beautiful, out-of-the-way places to explore is National Geographic’s extensive collection of trail maps. The maps, which are easy to read and include all sorts of information of hiking trails, mountain biking, campsites, and other ways to explore the nature world. The collection covers many of the most interesting natural sites across the United States and Canada, and there’s almost certainly one available for an area driving distance from your teen’s home.
Pick up a map or two from National Geographic’s website for less than $20.
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The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian MedicineIf your science-oriented teen is fascinated by medicine, history, or the macabre, treat them to Lindsey Fitzharris’s delicious book “The Butchering Art: Joseph Lister's Quest to Transform the Grisly World of Victorian Medicine.” The gory history of Lister’s efforts invent modern surgery dives into the bowels of Victorian medicine and emerges coated in that era’s fascinating blood and guts.
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Go boardMost people think that Chess is the ultimate board game for testing your strategic wits. But many people, especially the mathematically inclined, believe that title should belong to Go. Go was invented in China more than 2,500 years ago, and may be the oldest game continuously played until today. You can pick up all sorts of sets, from fancy wooden tables to cheap plastic sheets. We recommend the travel set pictured above for most teens.
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ArduinoIf your teen likes to play with computers but isn't looking to spend hours fiddling with pricey components (or you aren't eager to pay for them), a simpler option is the Arduino Starter Kit. Arduinos are simple, but infinitely customizable devices designed to introduce kids and teens to the basic principles of computing and robotics. The starter kit comes with all sorts of interesting pieces and projects, but quick learners may soon come up with new uses for the device outside the book.
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BonsaiWhen I was younger, a friend of mine received a bonsai tree as a gift from his parents. He's always been scientifically curious, and learning how to care for and shape the little tree quickly became an obsession for him. Now, he's in an Ivy League neuroscience program. Go figure. Bonsai fans highlight the opportunities to learn the intricacies of botany on a scale that can fit in a child's bedroom. Get your teen started with the well-reviewed "Bonsai: The Beginners Guide."
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How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-ExtinctionOne of the most fascinating ideas in science right now is the notion that extinct species might one day get brought back to life, and even that such de-extinction might be a good idea. Biologist Beth Shapiro's book "How to Clone a Mammoth: The Science of De-Extinction" is the best popular work on the subject, a fascinating read, and it's accessible to curious teens and adults alike.
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New York 2140Think your teen might be more interested in science fiction than science fact? Kim Stanley Robinson's "New York 2140" is one of the most fascinating novels based in science to come out in recent years. The book peers into the future, imagining what society might look like once sea levels have risen dozens of feet and turned Manhattan (and many other places) into a drowned city. And of course, there's intrigue and mystery.
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Red MarsIs your teen more of a space kid than an Earth kid? Another great, earlier novel from Kim Stanley Robinson is "Red Mars," the first installment in a trilogy about how humans might one day take over the Red Planet and rebel against their home-world.