Now reading: 9 last-minute gift ideas for the physics fan in your life

Take a self-guided tour from quantum to cosmos!

9 last-minute gift ideas for the physics fan in your life

What do you get for someone who has (a theory of) everything?

perpetual motion

It’s the most wonderful (space)time of the year, but some people are just so difficult to shop for. What do you get for the person who has (a theory of) everything? Here are nine geeky gift ideas for your favourite physics fan.

1. A chunk of space-mineral forged in the cataclysmic collision of neutron stars in the far reaches of the universe

Or, as it is more commonly known, gold. If you’re shopping for a gold necklace or watch for a loved one, keep this awesome fact in mind: much of the gold in our galaxy was likely created by the cataclysmic collision of neutron stars very, very far away. Research published in The Astrophysical Journal in 2018 suggests that these incredibly violent collisions of ultra-dense collapsed stars may be responsible for the majority of gold in our universe. So you can, with some truth, tell your loved one: “I’d give you the stars.”

Price: Mildly pricey to prohibitively exorbitant

2. Schrödinger’s Cat mug

Erwin Schrödinger composed his famous “cat” thought experiment as a way to demonstrate the counter-intuitiveness of an interpretation of quantum mechanics. It proposes a cat in a box with a random-triggered dose of poison must be considered both alive and dead simultaneously until the box is opened to check. We’re assuming Schrödinger drank plenty of coffee while formulating the idea – as have generations who have pondered it since – so this mug is a fitting tribute.

Price: 25 bucks for a set of two (one alive cat, one dead)


3. Euler’s Disc

Though marketed as a toy, this spinning disc has been the subject of multiple scientific papers, since it almost seems to defy gravity. Spoiler alert: as the azimuthal rotation decreases, the disc also undergoes a decrease in amplitude amid an increase in the frequency of the disk’s axial precession senoidal curve. Plus it makes a really cool sound.

Price: $20ish

4. Chalkboard paint

Physicists are drawn to chalkboards the way a cat is drawn the black pants you just lint-rollered before work. With chalkboard paint, any room can become a canvas for calculation. Just be sure to clear it with your landlord or boss first.

Price: $15 and up

5. Perpetual motion machine… almost

What better gift for a physicist than a device that seems to defy the laws of thermodynamics? This particular machine uses solar power to keep the marble rolling, so it won’t probably work after our sun explodes in a few billion years. Great fun in the meantime, though.

Price: $50 (glue and sunlight not included)

6. Books!

Newfangled gadgetry aside, there’s still nothing quite like a good book. Here are a few of our recommendations:

Price: Priceless (but starting at about 10 bucks)

7. A Swiss Franc banknote

Specifically, a CHF 200 note, which bears imagery commemorating CERN and the discovery of the Higgs boson at the Large Hadron Collider. The geeky greenbacks were in introduced last August and will be phased-in over the next few years.

Cost: About CAD $270, give or take depending on market fluctuations and such

8. Rube Goldberg machine

These things are all physics. Who wouldn’t want to spend an inordinate amount of time building an unnecessarily complex contraption to perform a meaningless task? Nobody, that’s who.

Price: Cheap (homemade with popsicle sticks and a marble) to kinda pricey (this starter kit) to holy-smokes-that-must-have-taken-forever-and-cost-a-fortune

9. Free posters!

Bring beauty and inspiration to any dorm room, bedroom, office, lounge, particle accelerator, or other space where science-lovers hang out with our free posters. We’ve got posters about dark matter, black holes, pioneering women in physics, general relativity, and lots more. Did we mention they’re free?

Price: nada!



Astronomical explosions called fast radio bursts are keeping astronomers on their toes.

/May 07, 2024

Inspiring Future Women in Science event gives young women a chance to see themselves in STEM careers.

/Apr 12, 2024

Astronomers capture polarized light from the supermassive black hole at the heart of our galaxy in unprecedented detail.

/Mar 27, 2024

Fun and intense academic research are a great mix at this year’s winter school.

/Mar 13, 2024

One of Perimeter’s recent Simons Emmy Noether Fellows reflects on her fruitful time in Waterloo.

/Mar 07, 2024

A research team from Perimeter, Zapata AI, and Vector Institute sets up a “race” between quantum and classical AI models.

/Feb 29, 2024

Ancient Egyptian astronomical texts are difficult to interpret. Computer modeling might help.

/Feb 22, 2024

Perimeter students, researchers, and staff share their experiences in celebration of the International Day of Women and Girls in Science.

/Feb 09, 2024

Perimeter postdoctoral researcher Barbara Šoda has been using spectral geometry to describe “fluctuating” spacetime.

/Feb 07, 2024

A preponderance of astronomical evidence suggests that the galaxy is filled with dark matter. Despite knowing remarkably little about what this dark matter is, we expect that it is not composed of ordinary matter. Though we have spent 30 years expecting that it may be related to pressing open problems in fundamental physics, a heroic […]

/Feb 01, 2024