5 Perfect Holiday Gifts for an Engineer

Coming up with gifts to delight the systematic questioners in your life presents a special opportunity to be creative. Here are some ideas that make the cut this holiday season.

1. Floating coffee mug. Design fans will love this mug’s sleek lines and intriguing look. Practical folks will like how it helps keep coffee drips and mug rings from their desktop or table. Launched in 2012 on Kickstarter (where you can still read the interesting tale of its invention), the Floating Mug is currently sold out on its own website, but is available for $29.99 on thinkgeek.com.

2. Smartphone microscope. The ProScope Micro Mobile retails $149 and is made in Oregon, United States. This professional-grade microscope attaches to most Apple iOS devices and the Samsung Galaxy S4, providing 20-80x magnification. It’s a compact, portable way to zoom in on just about anything that’s deserving of closer inspection, from circuit boards to bugs.

To preserve your findings (or turn them into art), the smartphone or iPad’s camera can be used to take still photos and video of the magnified image. A ring of adjustable LEDs, powered by a five-hour lithium-ion rechargeable battery, illuminates the subject of interest and reduces surface reflection. The kit includes a USB charging cable, a desktop stand for hands-free use, and a sleeve that fits the lens to your specific device. Sleeves that fit additional devices can be purchased for $20.

3. 7 Wonders board game. The goal of this strategic board game is to lead an ancient civilization from barbaric roots to world power. Though players can choose to focus on military, cultural, scientific, commercial or financial strength, Amazon.com reviews reveal that winning civilizations are most often multifaceted. In the course of the game, players try to build an architectural wonder as they compete to rule the most powerful civilization on Earth. Designed for three to seven players age 10 and up, 7 Wonders can be played in 30 minutes and is available on Amazon.com for $33.15.

4. Science comedy. Probably the only sitcom to employ a physicist for accuracy’s sake, The Big Bang Theory is in its seventh season on CBS. The show follows four friends who all work at Caltech: an experimental physicist (Leonard), a theoretical physicist (Sheldon), an astrophysicist (Raj), and a mechanical engineer (Howard). Penny, an across-the-hall neighbor, is a waitress and aspiring actor whose social skills and commonsense aid the socially inept Caltech crew on their journey to understand life outside the lab. Complete single-season DVDs of the show, a People’s Choice award winner, are available on Amazon.com from $19.99 to $26.02.

5. Books for inquiring minds. Among all books sold on Amazon.com that have elements of math or science, the two listed below are currently the best sellers. Gift individually or as a set.

The Drunken Botanist This book by Amy Stewart, billed as a fascinating concoction of biology, chemistry, history, etymology, and mixology, features more than 50 drink recipes as well as growing tips for gardeners. It also comes with a hefty promise: to make you the most popular guest at any cocktail party. ($11.97)

The Science of Good Cooking Written by the editors of America’s Test Kitchen and Guy Crosby Ph.D., this book explains how food science works and provides recipes that prove why every cook should care. It’s divided into 50 sections, each highlighting a key cooking concept. Through unique experiments that showcase the science behind the techniques, this book teaches why adding fat to eggs will make the perfect omelet, why it’s important to wait before carving a roast, and why it’s worth bothering to brown butter. ($24.96)

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