December 4, 2010

What to Buy a Geologist for Christmas

Posted by Evelyn Mervine

Zayna (my cat) in my Newtonmas tree.

Christmas is just over three weeks away. If you’re like me, you’ve recently put up your tree and a few decorations and are contemplating what to buy your friends and relatives. My family isn’t religious, so we celebrate Newtonmas instead of Christmas. We call the holiday Newtonmas because Issac Newton, the famous mathematician and scientist, was born on Christmas Day. We celebrate Newtonmas on the same day as Christmas.

My family is very festive about Newtonmas. My mom often throws a science-themed Newtonmas Party, and we have all kinds of Newtonmas decorations, including a Newtonmas tree. The best thing about a Newtonmas tree is that you don’t have to use an angel or a star as a tree topper (unless you want to). Rather, you can use anything you want! When we lived in Europe for a couple of years, we bought a little Napoleon doll and this has become our traditional tree-topper. Since I’ve moved out of the house and started putting up my own tree, I’ve used various stuffed animals and toys as tree-toppers. This year I’m using the little blue dragon from the “How to Train Your Dragon” movie. Because dragons are cute and are as real as angels, to me anyway. In honor of Newton, my family exchanges gifts and eats delicious food and even plays Christmas music. Because music is pretty, whatever your religious beliefs (or lack thereof).

Many of you may be wondering what to buy a geologist for Christmas/Newtomas. Below I’ve listed a few suggestions of gifts I think a geologist would like. Feel free to post your own suggestions for gifts in the comments!

And Merry Christmas/Chanukah/Newtonmas!

Gift #1: Geology Cake T-Shirt

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This T-shirt is sold by here. Unfortunately, this t-shirt is currently sold out. Everyone should help request a reprint! A quick note is that geoblogger Callan Bentley pointed out in his NOVA blog that the angular unconformity cake/geology layer is highly improbable. Despite that, this is a fun t-shirt!

Cost: $18 (cheaper if it’s on sale!). 

Gift #2: Global Warming Mug

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My mom actually bought this mug for me for Christmas several years ago. This mug is great- when empty or filled with cold water, the continents look normal. However, when you add hot water the edges of the continents recede as they would during sea level rise. I’m not sure exactly how much sea level rise this mug represents, but it’s so much fun! You can buy the mug (and watch a video of it being filled with hot water) here

Cost: $12.95.

Gift #3: Brunton Compass

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A Brunton compass- used for general navigation and taking strike and dip measurements for geologic maps- is a must-have for any geologist. Alas, these compasses are expensive so not all geologists have their own. I finally bought one a couple of years ago, but before that I would always borrow them from the department or friends. Many geologists already own these, so you might want to check first. However, if you’re rich and your geologist friend doesn’t already own one of these, this will make a fantastic gift certain to provoke squeals of delight and dramatic hugs. Brunton compasses can be purchased here.

Cost: About $500-$800 depending on the model.

Gift #4: Rite in the Rain All-Weather (Except Wintry Mix) Writing Products:

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The Rite-in-the-Rain people may not be very good at spelling, but they make wonderful notebooks, papers, and pens that are great for using in all sorts of field conditions- rain, snow, and sunshine. My favorite Rite-in-the-Rain product is the geology notebook as it comes with a ruler and all sorts of useful reference pages, such as a geologic timescale, in the back. The Rite-in-the-Rain Geological Field Notebook can be bought from here. Be sure to check out other Rite-in-the-Rain products at their webpage.

Cost (for geology field book): $17.95 on

Gift #5: GPS

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A GPS is another must-have for a geologist. Fifteen or even ten years ago, GPS units were bulky and expensive. These days, most people have them in their cars to give driving directions. Outdoor (often waterproof) GPS field units are now pocket-sized and very convenient to bring along for fieldwork. Many hikers even use these now. I must admit that I somewhat miss the pre-GPS days when you had to hone your map-and-compass skills, but GPS units are very convenient. Most geologists will already own a GPS so you might check on this first. Perhaps your geologist friend wants a GPS upgrade! There are many types of GPS units, but I find the Garmin etrex to be a great, simple unit to use for my purposes– basic navigation and recording sampling positions.

Cost: About $100-200 for a basic unit.

Gift #6: Annals of the Former World

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This is an absolutely amazing book by John McPhee, one of my favorite writers. McPhee is an incredible non-fiction writer who personalizes his non-fiction and makes it entertaining by incorporating storytelling techniques. McPhee researched and wrote this book about North American geology by traveling with various geologists. McPhee makes both the geologists and their geology come alive in this masterpiece. If my recommendation isn’t enough, this book won the 1999 Pulitzer Prize for general non-fiction.

Cost: $14.28 from here.

Gift #7: Nature’s Fire Undersea Volcano Kinetic Light Sculpture

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This “volcano sculpture” looks tacky- and it is! Wonderfully tacky! This volcano sculpture erupts little plastic “magma” beads and makes a rhythmic, sort of soothing, clicky woosh as it does so. Multicolored lights (blue, yellow, pink) flash as the volcano erupts. The only problem with this volcano sculpture is that if you don’t keep it completely filled with water, the little beads tend to float up at the top. By the way, the sculpture doubles as a cat-hypnotizer. My cats will watch it for hours!

Here’s a video of my volcano sculpture:

Cost: $27.95 (sale price!) here at The Nature Store.

 Gift #8: Foam Rocks

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Fake foam rocks can be ordered from a variety of toy and gift stores. These are great to throw at geology students who aren’t paying attention in class…

Cost: $5-10.

Gift #9: Bad Geology Disaster Movie

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Pretty much every year, my mom and sister buy me a bad geology movie or two. There are dozens upon dozens of these. If you’d like to own “Magma: Volcanic Disaster” you can buy this movie at here for only $11.99. The great thing about bad geology movies, though, is that they are generally fairly cheap. I often find them in the $5 sale bin at Wal-Mart. There are endless options!

Here are a few more movie suggestions:
-Journey to the Center of the Earth (many versions… I highly recommend the 1950s version starring Pat Boone)
-The Core
-Deep Impact
-Dante’s Peak
-The Day After Tomorrow

Cost: $5-20.

Gift #10: A Rock
Seriously. Any rock. You can order a pretty mineral off the internet if you want, but the great thing about geologists is that they find pretty much any rock interesting. So, go out in your yard or dirt driveway or down to the beach or your local hiking trail. Look around until you find a rock with pretty, shiny crystals or interesting layers or an interesting texture. Take the rock and put it in a box. Wrap the box and add a note that says, “I found this and thought of you.” Presto! A free gift that any geologist will love!

Cost: Free!