The Holidays are upon us and many of us are once again struggling with those inevitable lists and trying to come up with just the right gift for everyone--and figure out what we'd like while we are at it. Worse yet, the "right stuff" for science and technology buffs is always particularly hard to find. So before we wore ourselves out, we figured that we'd let our computer mice do the walking on the World Wide Web.

What we turned up made short work of our shopping--a rich selection of the useful, interesting and esoteric. Most sites allow you to order directly online; a few still require a phone call or a fax. Here are some of our choices--to please junior geniuses and lab-coated pros alike; from "big gifts" to stocking stuffers.

This year, dinosaurs are out, space exploration is in. Eyes have been turned skyward following the discovery of planets around distant stars, startling images from the Hubble Space Telescope--and most in recent weeks, John Glenn's heroic return to space; the launching of Zarya, the first section of the new International Space Station; and the Leonid meteor shower.

When the enormous space station, with the volume of two 747s, is completed in about five years, it will be visible with the naked eye as it soars overhead. But, for now, following the action as section after section is lofted into space and hooked together will require a telescope. For space station watchers and star gazers alike, a good selection can be found at the

STS 95 patch

John Glenn fans and space buffs, will appreciate a memento from the Trading Post at Johnson Space Center. From NASA's commissary, this online store sells commemorative memorabilia of manned spaceflight. An official uniform patch from the STS 95 Mission Patch goes for $4.95, a cap is $12.95. You can also find photographs, posters, T-shirts and, of course, coffee cups.

If Leo let you down and no remnants of the meteor shower landed at your feet and if you can't get to Antarctica, where meteorites can be plucked off the ice, you can still get that special person a piece of space rock by stopping at The Meteorite Shop. Polished fragments, jewelry and other specimens of space rocks can be found at prices from $25 to several hundred dollars.

A good selection of books about space and astronomy is available at the bookstore of the Nine Planets website. Included is NASA's beautiful coffee-table book, The NASA Atlas of the Solar System ($46.50) and David Morrison's Exploring Planetary Worlds ($32.95), the principal source of the material on the Nine Planets site. Want the sound track? Order a recording of Gustav Holst's The Planets. Another way to apprehend the solar system is a set of accurate hand blown glass paperweights from Earth Home. The planets are $95--the Sun is $225.

To view Earth from a closer vantage, try the U.S. Geological Survey. USGS products include items such as maps, aerial photographs, satellite images, and CD-ROM's. The site's Photo Finder lets you locate a map, satellite image, or aerial photograph of any area in the U.S. The 9-by 9-inch photo (unenlarged) aerial photos used to update maps are shot from 20,000 every five years. Each covers an area a bit more than 5 miles on a side, providing a unique birds-eye view of home. An interactive map makes it easy to locate a nearby USGS dealer.


At the other end of the spectrum, we can't forget Titanic and the intrepid submersible Alvin that Robert Ballard used to make the first manned dive to the historic wreck. The Giftshop at Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, which operates Alvin, has a selection of hats and t-shirts.

If you know someone who might want to take Alvin home, pay a visit to Viking Models and you can give someone the fun of putting it together. Viking sells an extremely detailed and accurate 1/35 scale model of Alvin for $49.99 . It also makes models of research vessels, military figures, and warships, such as the USS Texas ($189).

Bored with ship and rocket models? Then dive down to the molecular level at Darling Models, which produces molecular models for educators. This year all the kids on the block will be building Fullerenes ($6.50), protein alpha helices ($16.50), or ice crystals ($10.50). But, admit it, they are a whole lot more interesting on the coffee table than a B-52.

Corundum model

If you are still nostalgic about your first chemistry set and are determined to inflict a similar experience on a youngster, Science Kits has a good selection of all those traditional hands-on standbys, from Chemlab chemistry sets ($50), to sets that explore electronics and electricity and growing crystals. The site also sells a line of test kits designed for grades four through college for testing water, soil, and air ($14.95) made by LaMotte Company, a developer of portable tests and instruments for use in the field and the classroom. Viewing specimens, of course, requires a microscope. A good stereo scope costs $199 at Nature Co.

For the offbeat science gift, don't pass by American Science and Surplus, which has a huge catalog of sells surplus and remaindered science equipment from the professional and academic market. One present that will make someone's hair literally stand on end is a 250,000 volt Van de Graaf generator kit for $125.

You can still get an ant farm ($25-$40) at the Kids Science Store, but if that seems old hat how about raising a spectacular four-inch Cecropia moth. At Mike's Magic Moths you can purchase farmed cocoons and eggs of a number of beautiful butterflies and hatch them yourself. Luna and Polyphemus cocoons are $8 each; Cecropia, $10 each. They will hatch in the spring or summer.


The armchair entomologist on the list might be more appreciative of the beautifully mounted butterflies and moths from Bruce Ithier's World of Insects. Ithier, who mounts specimens for leading scientific supply houses, sells his Lepidoptera from his website--and at surprisingly low prices. A spectacularly iridescent Giant Morpho goes for $30.

On the other hand, if the naturalist on your list is given to stomping about in the field, the place to shop is American Biological Supply Co. Browse their catalog for the finest in nets. and collecting equipment, professional hardwood display cases and stainless steel mounting pins.


For fossil collectors, check out the The Fossil Company. You are certain to find the perfect fossil for a friend in its extensive catalog, where you will find everything from ammonites to echinoids, as well as reptiles and plants at prices from a few dollars to hundreds. The Nature Co. also offers fossils, from 240 million year old trilobites ($14.99) to the skull of a saber toothed cat ($350). Mineral and crystal specimens are available from both Fossil Co. and Nature Co., which also offers a selection of amber jewelry.

Those throwbacks who still prefer dinosaurs may find what they are looking for at the American Museum of Natural History Museum Shop. It's Book & Diorama Sets includes a scale model surrounded by an appropriate habitat, and a 63 page book filled with information and fun facts on the featured creature. T. rex goes for $10.95.

robo dog

Saurians aside, the ultimate pet this year is likely to be a high-tech companion animal known as Robo-Dog. This updated version of man's best friend from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology's Museum Shop never needs a bath or food but proud owners can take him on walks, controlling his movements with a wireless electronic control ($119.99).

MIT's remarkably easy-to-use site (after all the institute does host the Media Lab) features a slick collection of tekkie toys for all ages. Check out the selection of LEGO Technic Kits which were used at MIT for engineering and design courses. They teach creative problem solving using the scientific method and are not available in retail stores. All kits are suitable for ages 7 and up (Technic I, $65). If physics isn't enough, you can get a budding Einstein a set of videotapes that teach calculus to seven year olds ($122.95)! Also browse the selections of mind bending games, and puzzles.

To find the best in educational software for youngsters, stop by Boston's Computer Museum. It's panel of experts has selected the Top 10 Programs for Kids for the year, which are available at the Museum Store

stereo viewer

Meanwhile, if there's an antiquarian on the list, you may find what they are hoping for at The Gemmary, which has an extensive catalog of antique scientific instruments. Waiting to be snapped up are a late 19th century 3 D optical viewer ($1950), a mechanical solar system model ($9,500), and a set of fairly grim medical cutlery--a British Army Regulation Surgeons Instrument Set, "as made and supplied to Her Majesty's Army" ($5500). Perfect for the new medical student.

Even so, there's always that person who has everything. But don't despair. You could get them a classic Galileo thermometer with its floating glass spheres ($49 to $199) or a humble backyard rain gauge ($15). Or consider the Levitron, an antigravity top that surfs on magnetic waves ($42.95). For the well heeled and always punctual, how about a Geochron Global Time Indicator that simultaneously shows time and displays the extent of daylight and darkness throughout the world ($1525). Tired of the fast track? Get a five-foot-tall hot air balloon from the Smithsonian Institution ($22.90).

We even found the answer for that one person we all know who is technologically compromised. David Macaulay's landmark book, The Way Things Work, is now available on CD-ROM. Its a brilliant guide to the principles behind the key inventions that shape our lives--from levers and inclined planes to internal combustion engines and space shuttles. The CD sells for $49.95. And, if your intended recipient is truly low-tech, you can still get the hardcover book for $29.95.

Oh, and while you are here--you can always make a quick stop at Scientific American's own Marketplace. Then go do a bit of cyber sleighing on your own.