CLOSE
iStock
iStock

10 Brilliant Gifts for the Curious Kid in Your Life

iStock
iStock

Encourage someone’s boundless curiosity this holiday season. Here are 11 gifts designed for your niece who’s going through her “why” phase, your little cousin who dreams of being an astronomer, or your favorite young-at-heart amateur inventor. 

Mental Floss has affiliate relationships with certain retailers and may receive a small percentage of any sale. But we only get commission on items you buy and don’t return, so we’re only happy if you’re happy. Thanks for helping us pay the bills!

1. THE ALPHABET OF ANIMAL PROFESSIONS POSTER, $29

Help some little ones learn their ABCs through this cute, whimsical poster that imagines how animals might earn their living. Ducks are doctors, penguins are photographers, and zebras are zoologists. 

Find it: Pop Chart Lab

2. LAB TEST GAMES; $20

These four particle-inspired brainteasers can keep the whole family occupied over the holidays. Take the wooden puzzles apart and put them back together in the shape of an atom, a molecule, a particle, and a cell. Try not to peek at the solutions!

Find it: UncommonGoods

3. BIOLUMINESCENT DINO PET; $60

Satisfy someone’s need for thousands of pets by making them the caretaker of legions of dinoflaggelates, plankton that glow neon blue at night. The dinosaur-shaped tank will be a bright, low-maintenance addition to any family. 

Find it: UncommonGoods

4. LETTERS FOR KIDS;$6.50 PER MONTH OR $66 PER YEAR

Nothing’s more exciting than getting a letter in the mail—especially for kids who weren’t alive for the pre-email age. Every month, the literary website The Rumpus commissions young adult and middle-grade authors to write letters for kids 6 years and older. A monthly subscription gets your young bookworm two letters a month from authors like Lemony Snicket, the Newbery Medal-winning Susan Patron, and more. 

Find it: The Rumpus

5. EDIBLE CHEMISTRY SET; $18

If you give something to a child, chances are, it’s going to end up in their mouth. Why not just embrace it? This edible chemistry set teaches youngsters about reactions through safe-to-consume experiments involving carbonation, turning green jelly blue, and more. 

Find it: UncommonGoods

6. ROBOT TURTLES; $18

Robot Turtles is more than just a fun board game. The successful Kickstarter product is designed to teach children as young as 4 the basics of programming. Kids (and adults!) have to make silly noises to move their turtles around the game board in pursuit of jewels. 

Find it: Amazon

7. BUDDINGSTEM TRAIN DRESS, $39

This t-shirt dress from buddingSTEM—a company devoted to providing clothes for science-loving girls who don’t need another princess dress—is made for young transportation nerds and aspiring engineers. It’s perfect for masterminding model train routes and brainstorming locations for the family’s next travel adventure.

Find it: buddingSTEM

8. MUDWATT CLASSIC KIT, $58

MudWatt’s science kits turn dirt into a power plant. Each kit harnesses microbes growing naturally in soil to generate electricity. Just add dirt, and after a week, it can power a digital clock. In the process, kids learn about microbes, soil, and the science of electricity.

Find it: Amazon

9. LITTLEBITS GIZMOS AND GADGETS KIT; $200

Future inventors, tinkerers, and programmers will love these piecemeal building blocks. The kid-friendly circuit modules snap together to make tiny robots, with no previous programming knowledge required. The LittleBits kit comes with all the tools necessary to make 12 inventions, including a wireless doorbell and a spinning lamp, plus whatever else your favorite curious kid can come up with. 

Find it: Amazon  

10. DUNECRAFT CARNIVOROUS CREATURES SCIENCE KIT; $35

Young botanists and nature-lovers will delight in this terrarium grow kit for carnivorous plants. It comes with an LED light that’s powered by USB, so no need to worry about finding sunny window space. These insect-eating plants are sure to get any kid's attention. 

Find it: Dune Craft

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Cell Free Technology
arrow
technology
This Pixel Kit Will Let You Play Tetris With Jellyfish DNA
Cell Free Technology
Cell Free Technology

Forget playing Tetris on your phone. Now you can play it with jellyfish DNA. Bixels is a DIY game kit that lets you code your own games using synthetic biology, lighting up a digital display with the help of DNA.

Its 8-by-8 pixel grid is programmed to turn on with the help of the same protein that makes jellyfish glow, called green fluorescent protein (GFP). But you can program it to do more than just passively shine. You can use your phone and the associated app to excite Bixels' fluorescent proteins and make them glow at different frequencies, producing red, blue, and green colors. Essentially, you can program it like you would any computer, but instead of electronics powering the system, it's DNA.

Two blue boxes hold Bixel pixel grids.

Researchers use green fluorescent protein all the time in lab experiments as an imaging agent to illuminate biological processes for study. With Bixels, all you need is a little programming to turn the colorful lights (tubes filled with GFP) into custom images or interactive games like Tetris or Snake. You can also use it to develop your own scientific experiments. (For experiment ideas, Bixels' creator, the Irish company Cell-Free Technology, suggests the curricula from BioBuilder.)

A screenshot shows a user assembling a Bixel kit on video.

A pixel kit is housed in a cardboard box that looks like a Game Boy.

Bixels is designed to be used by people with all levels of scientific knowledge, helping make the world of biotechnology more accessible to the public. Eventually, Cell-Free Technology wants to create a bio-computer even more advanced than Bixels. "Our ultimate goal is to build a personal bio-computer which, unlike current wearable devices, truly interacts with our bodies," co-founder Helene Steiner said in a press release.

Bixels - Play tetris with DNA from Cell-Free Technology on Vimeo.

You can buy your own Bixel kit on Kickstarter for roughly $118. It's expected to ship in May 2018.

All images courtesy Cell-Free Technology

nextArticle.image_alt|e
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
arrow
science
Play a Game to Help Scientists Defeat a Cancer-Causing Toxin
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images
Habibou Kouyate, Stringer, Getty Images

If you're used to fighting virtual zombies or flying spaceships on your computer, a new series of games available on Foldit may sound a little unconventional. The object of the Aflatoxin Challenge is to rearrange protein structures and create new enzymes. But its impact on the real world could make it the most important game you've ever played: The scientists behind it hope it will lead to a new way to fight one of the most ruthless causes of liver cancer.

As Fast Company reports, the citizen science project is a collaboration between Mars, Inc. and U.C. Davis, the University of Washington, the Partnership for Aflatoxin Control in Africa, and Thermo Fisher Scientific. The team's online puzzles, which debuted on Foldit earlier this month, invite the public to create a new enzyme capable of finding and destroying carcinogens known as aflatoxins.

Aflatoxins form when certain fungi grow on crops like corn, nuts, and grains. Developing countries often don't have the resources to detect it in food, leaving around 4.5 billion people vulnerable to it. When people do eat food with high aflatoxin levels unknowingly, they can contract liver cancer. Roughly a quarter of all liver cancer cases around the world can be traced back to aflatoxin exposure.

The toxin's connection to agriculture is why the food giant Mars is so interested in fighting it. By working on a way to stop aflatoxins on a molecular level, the company could prevent its spread more efficiently than they would with less direct methods like planting drought-resistant crops or removing mold by hand.

The easiest way for scientists to eradicate an aflatoxin before it causes real harm is by making an enzyme that does the work for them. With the Aflatoxin Challenge, the hope is that by manipulating protein structures, online players will come up with an enzyme that attacks aflatoxins at a susceptible portion of their molecular structure called a lactone ring. Destroying the lactone ring makes aflatoxin much less toxic and essentially safe to eat.

The University of Washington launched Foldit in 2008. Since then, the online puzzle platform has been used to study a wide range of diseases including AIDS and Chikungunya. Everyone is welcome to contribute to the Foldit's new aflatoxin project for the next several weeks or so, after which scientists will synthesize genes based on the most impressive results to be used in future studies.

[h/t Fast Company]

SECTIONS

arrow
LIVE SMARTER
More from mental floss studios