If Global Warming is Real, Why is it SO COLD?? Understanding the Polar Vortex

Let’s cut to the chase: it is COLD in Texas right now.

This week, temperatures in Ft. Worth were in the single digits. It was colder in Dallas than in Anchorage, Alaska. There was snow accumulation in Galveston (aka on the Gulf Coast). The entire state is under a winter storm warning, and many places are seeing the coldest temperatures they have in decades.

For years, scientists have been reporting the hottest years on record. We’ve been told the planet is consistently getting warmer. But how does that make sense when we’re seeing record cold temperatures and snowfall?

Climate vs. Weather

There is an important distinction to make when we have these types of discussions: climate is not the same as weather.

Weather is effectively the atmospheric conditions at a given space and moment in time. This includes characteristics like air temperature, humidity, cloud cover, etc. This extreme cold front would be considered a weather event.

Climate, by contrast, refers to the long-term average weather conditions in an area. It gives a much broader picture and understanding (usually over the span of years, decades, or centuries) than day-to-day fluctuations we see in weather. Examples of climate would be: Texas is usually warm or hot. Florida is hot and humid. Arizona is hot and dry. The Pacific Northwest is cloudy and rainy. Minnesota is cold., etc.

Why this is important: just because it is extremely cold today (weather) doesn’t mean that temperatures aren’t increasing on average (climate).

The Basics of Climate Change

I recognize that there are some differences of opinions as to whether Climate Change is real. I’m not going to go into extensive detail about all of the evidence for Global Warming and Climate Change in this post because it honestly deserves its own blog post. I’ve tried my best to include links and references which do a good job summarizing current data and research. In short: there is an abundance of scientific evidence that Global Warming is happening and that fossil fuel emissions are a major part of it.

Climate Change vs. Global Warming

The term “Climate Change” is an all-encompassing way to refer to multiple aspects of our changing planet, including:

  • Increasing temperatures (e.g. Global Warming)
  • Melting glaciers and ice sheets
  • Rising sea levels
  • More extreme weather events (droughts, hurricanes, wildfires, etc.)
  • Ocean warming & acidification
  • etc.

Often, you’ll see the terms “Climate Change” and “Global Warming” used interchangeably, but there is actually a difference between the two.

Global Warming refers specifically to global temperature increases (which is one aspect of Climate Change). There is a LOT of evidence that temperatures are increasing around the globe, including data from ice cores, tree rings, satellite/remote sensing data, ocean temperature loggers, etc. Although the earth is known to go through periods of warming and cooling, there is a strong consensus among scientists that current trends in global warming are likely a result of human activities, especially the burning of fossil fuels.

Temperature data showing rapid warming in the past few decades, the latest data going up to 2020. According to NASA data, 2016 and 2020 are tied for the warmest year since 1880, continuing a long-term trend of rising global temperatures. The 10 warmest years in the 141-year record have occurred since 2005, with the seven most recent years being the warmest. Credit: NASA’s Goddard Institute for Space Studies. Obtained from NASA.

The Greenhouse Effect

The link between fossil fuels and increasing temperatures is in part a result of something called the Greenhouse Effect. Here’s a simplified version of how the greenhouse effect works:

  • Greenhouse gases (like carbon dioxide and methane) trap heat in our atmosphere
  • Burning fossil fuels like coal, natural gas, and oil has released an unprecedented amount of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
  • More greenhouse gas = more heat retention = global temperatures increase

There is a lot of evidence that the earth’s climate (including temperatures) is related to greenhouse gas levels in the atmosphere. There’s also a lot of evidence that atmospheric carbon dioxide levels are the highest they’ve been in the last 800,000 years. (See the figure below. I’ll explain where this data comes from in a different blog post) The scientific consensus is that man-made greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane have contributed significantly to the earth’s increasing temperatures over the last 50 years.

This graph, based on the comparison of atmospheric samples contained in ice cores and more recent direct measurements, provides evidence that atmospheric CO2 has increased since the Industrial Revolution. (Credit: Luthi, D., et al.. 2008; Etheridge, D.M., et al. 2010; Vostok ice core data/J.R. Petit et al.; NOAA Mauna Loa CO2 record.) Find out more about ice cores (external site). Taken from NASA.

How Does Global Warming Impact Weather Patterns?

Long story short: Global Warming and Climate Change are resulting in more frequent extreme weather events including hurricanes, wildfires, floods, droughts, and yes, even cold fronts. But how is that happening?

The Warming Arctic

One phenomenon of Global Warming is that the Arctic is warming faster than the rest of the planet.

Why?

Their are several contributing factors to this, but one has to do with ground cover. Objects which are the color white reflect light (and subsequently, heat), while objects which are the color black absorb light (and heat). Historically, land and oceans in the Arctic were covered in ice, which reflected most heat back into the atmosphere. As the Arctic has warmed, ice which formerly covered most land and oceans has begun to melt, revealing much darker water and land underneath. As a result, the exposed water and ground underneath begin to absorb more heat, causing the Arctic to get warmer, causing more ice to melt faster, and so on. However, climate is a complex and multifaceted issue, so this alone cannot explain the warming temperatures in the arctic, but research suggests that diminishing sea ice has played a major role. There are a lot of other important factors too, but the main takeaway is data shows that temperatures in the Arctic are increasing much faster than the rest of the planet.

Temperature trends for variability in the Arctic and Antarctic regions, taken from Post et al. 2019. The polar regions in a 2*C warmer world. Science Advances 5(12): eaaw9883. The graph on the left shows how surface temperatures have changed faster in the Arctic (green line) compared to the Antarctic (blue line) and the rest of the planet (brown line)

The Polar Vortex

So what does this have to do with weather patterns in the northern hemisphere in places like Texas?

The extreme cold front that we’re dealing with right now is in part the result of something known as the Polar Vortex.

Normally, the Polar Vortex is a large area of low pressure and extremely cold air that is centered in the arctic around the North Pole. It is held in place by the jet stream, a strong air current that surrounds the arctic. Normally, the jet stream is held in place by the temperature difference between warm air to the south and cold air to the north. The greater the temperature difference is, the more stable the jet stream is.

When the temperature differential decreases (either because of cold temperatures at southern latitudes and/or warm temperatures in the arctic), the jet stream weakens, and the super cold air from the polar vortex can essentially wobble southward around the northern hemisphere, bringing extreme cold temperatures. Subsequently, increasing temperatures in the arctic are causing the jet stream to become weaker. This allows more the polar vortex to travel more easily around the northern hemisphere, resulting in more frequent and extreme cold fronts.

Here is a visualization of how it works:

The science behind the Polar Vortex (from NOAA). The depiction on the left shows what the polar vortex is like under normal conditions, when the jet stream is held in place in part due to the temperature differential between the cold arctic and warmer southern latitudes. The image on the right shows what happens when the jet stream weakens. It begins to wave and wobble, allowing ultra cold air normally restricted to the northernmost parts of the globe to move south across the northern hemisphere.

In other words, part of the reason it is so cold outside is because of Global Warming, not despite it. Warming arctic temperatures mean that many places in the northern hemisphere are actually seeing extreme cold fronts more frequently because of reduced stability of the Polar Vortex.

Also, keep in mind that these Polar Vortex events are temperature outliers. Even though they may be associated with record breaking cold temperatures, the average yearly temperatures in most areas are still increasing around the globe.

Regarding Texas’ Power Grid & Renewable Energy

The entire state of Texas has been under winder conditions that our infrastructure is not designed for. This has put unprecedented strain on our power grid, resulting in widespread power outages and rolling blackouts. There are a lot of contributing factors to this, including a reduction in power supply.

Supporters of fossil fuels (such as Gov. Greg Abbott) have been quick to place the blame on renewable energy sources such as wind turbines (some of which have frozen and become non-operational, reducing supply). This might surprise you, but Texas leads the US in wind-powered electricity production. Under normal conditions, roughly 15-20% of Texas’ electricity is produced by wind turbines. Failing wind turbines would have a significant impact on electricity supply in Texas. However, only 7% of ERCOT’s winter capacity is expected to come from wind sources . Most (80%) of the state’s winter energy comes from natural gas, coal, and nuclear power (source).

However, other forms of energy production have also been failing. The simple reality is that all of our power plants are operating under conditions they were not designed for. Other power sources such as gas, coal, and nuclear are also failing. According to ERCOT, Texas has lost 16 gigawatts of renewable energy generation from renewable sources (mainly wind). By contrast, we have lost 30 gigawatts from thermal sources (e.g. gas, coal, and nuclear; source).

So no, renewable energy is not the sole cause of current power shortages.

Final Thoughts

Regardless of why these temperatures are happening, I really hope that everyone is able to stay warm and safe over the next few days.

If you lose power, here are things that you can do to help conserve heat and/or power:

  • Avoid going outside, if you can.
  • Create as much insulation between you and the outside as you can
    • Keep curtains and blinds closed (if you get any direct sunlight, open them to let the sunlight in. Close them again once you are no longer getting direct sun)
    • Roll clothing/towels to block gaps in doors in windows
    • Cover floors (especially tile, linoleum, etc.) with fabric (towels, blankets, or dirty clothing)
  • Close doors to any rooms or closets you are not actively using. Use as few rooms as you can.
  • Keep freezers and refrigerators closed
  • Keep your phone as charged as possible
  • Wear multiple layers of clothing. If your pets are cold, try putting socks on their feet and/or clothing you have that fit them
    • Try to keep clothing dry and avoid wearing cotton, if you can. When cotton gets wet, it loses its ability to insulate, and can potentially increase your risk of getting hypothermia.
  • Make sure that you are eating and drinking. This provides the energy your body needs to produce body heat.

If roads are safe, consider going to an alternate location for heat, either with a friend/family member or at a local warming shelter.

  • Austin: Click here or call 512-305-ICEE (4233) for information about cold weather shelters and warming centers
  • DFW: Click here and here for a list of warming center locations
  • West and Central Texas: Click here for a list of locations in West Texas and the Edwards Plateau. Click here for a list of locations in Central Texas.
  • Houston: Click here for a current list.
  • San Antonio: This is the best list I could find. I will update it if I find a more detailed one.
  • El Paso: Click here for a list or contact 3-1-1 for more information. You can also visit ElPasoReady.org for more information about extreme cold safety.
  • Corpus Christi: Click here for a list of locations.

Know the signs of hypothermia (via the CDC):

  • Shivering
  • Exhaustion or feeling very tired
  • Confusion
  • Fumbling hands
  • Memory loss
  • slurred speech
  • Drowsiness

Hypothermia is a medical emergency. If a person’s body temperature falls below 95 F, seek medical attention immediately. Otherwise, try and warm the person up:

  • Remove any wet clothing
  • Warm the center of the person’s body (chest, neck, head, and groin) using an electric blanket
  • Warm drinks can help increase body temperature (but NOT alcoholic drinks)
  • Click here for more information.

Stay safe, everyone.

What You Need to Know About mRNA Vaccines

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The COVID-19 vaccines produced by Moderna and Pfizer are the first widely-implemented vaccines to utilize mRNA. Understandably, some people have some concerns and questions- What even is mRNA? Are these vaccines safe? Can they alter your DNA? – I’ll do my best to try and address some of those questions in this post.

What is mRNA?

To explain what mRNA is, we’re going to have to explain a process called protein synthesis.

Brief synopsis: proteins are molecules which are formed by stringing together smaller molecules called amino acids. This process of protein synthesis is completed by ribosomes within the cytoplasm of our cells. Proteins serve a variety of functions within our body, from structural components to enzymes (which facilitate different chemical reactions within or body). Pretty much every living organism is built in part and kept alive by proteins.

The human body consists of an estimated hundreds of thousands of different proteins- but these proteins have to come from somewhere. Something has to tell our bodies how to assemble the amino acids together.

That is part of the function of our DNA (deoxyribonucleic acid). I’m not going to go too much into the structure of DNA here, because it’s not hugely important for the subject at hand. In summary: DNA is another molecule, which is found within the nucleus of our cells. It consists of two strands of nucleotides (smaller molecules), which join together to form a double helix (sort of like if you took a ladder and twisted it).

One of the major functions of DNA is that it contains the instructions for building proteins. But there’s a problem- to build proteins, our ribosomes need the information found within our DNA, but the ribosomes are found outside the nucleus, while DNA is trapped inside the nucleus.

This is a simplified diagram of a human cell, featuring the components involved in protein synthesis. DNA (white) is found within the nucleus (dark brown). Proteins are assembled by the ribosomes (grey dots), which are found either attached to the endoplasmic reticulum (brown blobs) or freely floating in the cytoplasm (pink). mRNA (not shown) is a copy of a section of DNA which contains the instructions for building a single protein, and can move from the nucleus to the ribosomes within the cytoplasm.

That’s where mRNA comes in. RNA (ribonucleic acid) is similar to DNA, but consist of one nucleotide strand instead of 2 (which makes it less stable- that’s going to be important when we talk about the vaccines). There are different types of RNA, including mRNA (short for “messenger RNA”). The function of mRNA is to copy a small section of DNA in the nucleus (through a process called transcription). Because mRNA is much smaller than our DNA, it can leave the nucleus of the cell and travel to our ribosomes, which can read the information contained in mRNA and use it to build proteins (through a process called translation). [DNA and mRNA tell the ribosomes which amino acids to use to build the protein, and what order to put them in).

Here’s a more succinct summary:

  • DNA is trapped in the nucleus
  • A gene (section of DNA with the instructions for building a single protein) is copied (transcribed) into mRNA
  • mRNA leaves the nucleus and travels to a ribosome
  • The ribosome reads (translates) the mRNA to create the corresponding protein (by assembling specific amino acids together in a specific order)

I like to think of protein synthesis like building a LEGO set.

The goal is to build something (a LEGO set or protein) from individual pieces (LEGO blocks or amino acids). But you can’t just put the blocks together randomly- for it to work, they need to be assembled in a particular order and structure.

To do that, you need instructions. In the case of proteins, those instructions are found in our DNA (in the nucleus of our cells). In the case of LEGO sets, those instructions are found in LEGO’s databases. In either case, you can’t use the original copy- both because of its 1) physical location (DNA is in the nucleus, but protein synthesis occurs in the ribosomes found within our cytoplasm. In the case of LEGOs, you obviously cannot access the original file on LEGO’s servers from your home), and 2) as a safety precaution to keep the “originals” (DNA or files) safe from being damaged or corrupted.

When it comes to LEGO sets, you typically get a printed copy of the instructions telling you how to assemble the pieces together. Likewise, mRNA is a copy of a section of DNA explaining how to build a specific protein. This is often referred to as a gene. It is estimated that humans have roughly 30,000 genes.

How do mRNA Vaccines Work?

To understand how vaccines work, we need to understand how our immune system protects us from foreign microbes in the first place.

The Immune System

Our immune system consists of the organs and cells which help protect our body from pathogens (bacteria, fungi, viruses, etc.). There are three major components to the immune system:

  • Passive immune system: the passive immune system consists of physical barriers (such as skin) that help keep pathogens out of our body
  • Innate immune system: the innate immune system consists of mechanisms which are not specific to individual pathogens, such as fevers (which can be used to fight a variety of infections).
  • Adaptive immune system: when you think of “immunity,” this is what you’re thinking of. The adaptive immune system consists of a variety of cells which recognize, destroy, and remember specific pathogens.

The way the adaptive immune system works is complex, but here is a simplified/generalized summary of how it works:

  1. A microbe (virus, bacteria, etc.) enters the body and begins to reproduce.
  2. White blood cells ingest some of the microbes, then present proteins from the microbe on their cell surface (these foreign proteins are often referred to as antigens). Alternatively, the antigens may be released into the bloodstream.
  3. T cells recognize the antigen, which triggers a series of events resulting in the activation of B cells, which produce and secrete antibodies (highly specific protein which circulate in the blood and bind to antigens). Antibodies can function in many ways to help fight off a pathogen, including the neutralization of toxins, immobilizing microbes, etc.
  4. After activation, B cells clone themselves to produce other cells, including memory B cells, which are long-lived and facilitate a rapid response to the same microbe in the future.

Memory B cells (along with Memory T cells) are specific to individual pathogens. Once we have developed these cells, our immune system will have a stronger, faster response if exposed to the same pathogen in the future (which can help prevent us from getting sick).

Key takeaway: in order to develop immunity to a disease, you have to be exposed and develop an immune response to the pathogen that causes it.

Vaccines

Normally, developing immunity requires you to become infected with a pathogen, which takes time and carries the risk that you may not survive.

The concept behind vaccines is simple: instead of waiting to get infected to gain immunity, why not try and trigger an immune response by exposing the immune system to antigens associated with a pathogen? This could quickly activate the immune system without the risks associated from the actual disease.

Most “traditional” vaccines work by injecting antigens in the form of weakened pathogen, pathogen proteins, etc. into our bodies. Our immune system recognizes the contents of the vaccine as foreign, and mounts an immune response to the antigens. This allows us to develop immunity to a disease and produce antibodies without necessarily having to get sick with it. (By the way, there’s no scientific evidence that vaccines cause autism, but that’s a post for another day.)

Here’s a short video explaining how the immune system and vaccines work: (it mentions DNA vaccines, which are similar to mRNA vaccines, but aren’t exactly the same. The differences are beyond the scope of this post)

With mRNA vaccines, you aren’t injected with proteins, pathogen fragments, or weakened pathogens at all. Instead, you are injected with copies of mRNA from the pathogen. Eventually, these pieces of mRNA make their way to our ribosomes, which results in the production of proteins associated with that pathogen. Although our body built the proteins, our immune system can tell that they didn’t come from our DNA, recognizing them as antigens and triggering the immune response. Once the proteins are produced, the mRNA is broken down by normal cellular processes.

When we think about the COVID-19 vaccines, they are specifically designed to produce a “spike protein” normally found on the surface of the COVID-19 virus. This protein is harmless, but triggers an adaptive immune response, eventually granting immunity from COVID-19.

This Isn’t New Technology

The technology for mRNA vaccines has existed for decades– The first study using mRNA vaccines was published in 1990.

There are essentially two reasons an mRNA vaccine has not been previously approved by the FDA:

  • Efficacy: human trials of most previous mRNA vaccines have had “somewhat modest” results
  • Logistics: as I mentioned earlier, mRNA is not very stable. This poses problems for both storage and delivery of the vaccines (both of which have improved in recent years. The super cold storage requirements still pose logistical issues for distribution though.)

Advantages of mRNA Vaccines

There are quite a few advantages of mRNA vaccines, especially for a new virus like COVID-19. (Summarized in this paper.)

  • It is non-infectious; You can’t potentially get sick like you can from a weakened virus
  • mRNA is degraded by normal cellular processes after translation
  • They have the potential for rapid, inexpensive, and scalable manufacturing. (In summary, producing genetic material is much faster, easier, and cheaper than proteins, weakened virus, etc. It’s no accident that the first two COVID-19 vaccines were both mRNA vaccines; the process of developing and producing them is easier and faster than traditional vaccines.)

For anyone who is concerned about the safety of these vaccines- tens of thousands of people have received both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines already. If they weren’t safe, they would not have received emergency use authorization (but that’s a topic for another post). It is worth noting that trials on children and pregnant individuals have not been conducted yet, as they normally follow trials for the overall population. Those trials for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines should hopefully begin within a month.

Can mRNA from COVID-19 Vaccines Enter our DNA?

In short, almost definitely no.

The process by which foreign DNA is inserted into our own DNA is called insertional mutagenesis. Insertional mutagenesis can happen with certain kinds of vaccines, mainly DNA-based vaccines. However, this is virtually impossible with mRNA vaccines (which is actually considered to be one of their advantages).

Aside from the fact that mRNA is quickly broken down by normal cellular processes following protein synthesis, there are several hurdles that would need to be overcome for mRNA to become integrated into our DNA:

The first requirement would be for the mRNA to move from our cells into the nucleus, for which it would need something called a nuclear localization signal. In short, the mRNA in the COVID-19 vaccines doesn’t have such a signal, so it can’t enter the nucleus. (Strike 1)

The second requirement would be converting the mRNA fragments into DNA. That requires an enzyme called reverse transcriptase. Our bodies don’t make reverse transcriptase, and it isn’t found in the COVID-19 vaccines. (Strike 2)

Lastly, the vaccine would have to contain an enzyme called integrase, which would allow the DNA fragment to be spliced into the genome. This also is not found naturally in our bodies or the COVID-19 vaccines. (Strike 3)

Final Thoughts

Regarding references: This post doesn’t contain as much primary scientific research as some of my other posts, for a good reason: the process of protein synthesis and the function of vaccines/the immune system are well understood- you can find a fair amount of this information in basically any biology textbook. If anyone is skeptical of my references, these are the textbooks I referred to:

Biology: the Dynamic Science by Russell et al.

Molecular Biology of the Cell by Alberts et al.

There are a lot more things that are worth discussing about the COVID-19 vaccines, and I am doing my best to write blog posts about them. But if you’re concerned that mRNA in these vaccines could fundamentally and permanently alter your DNA- don’t be.

I’m sure that I have missed something. Please feel free to leave any thoughts or questions below- I only ask that you take some time to fact-check before you post.

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35+ Gift Ideas for your Favorite Science Nerd

I get commissions for purchases made through Amazon affiliate links in this post.

With the holidays rapidly approaching, many of us are likely asking ourselves what we plan to gift our loved ones. Whether they’re treats for yourself or gifts for other people, these are some of my favorite science-related gifts. Most of these gift ideas are targeted for adults- let me know if you would like a dedicated list for kids!

Charty Party ($24.99). I recently discovered this game and I am OBSESSED with it. It’s basically cards against humanity, but with graphs. I promise it’s a lot more fun than it sounds.

Cognitive surplus Whiskey chemistry rocks glass set ($29.95) They also have a similar “beer chemistry” pint glass set ($29.95)

Cognitive surplus graphic tees ($24.95) This is just one of the many field-specific science t-shirts made by Cognitive Surplus. I got the green bird graphic tee for my husband a few years ago and he loves it. They run a little small- I would order a size up unless you’re looking for a fitted t-shirt.

Cognitive surplus “the hypothesis” hardcover notebook ($19.95). If you can’t tell by now, I *love* this company. They have so many different disciplines to choose from- I currently use their “Bee hardcover dot grid” notebook as my bullet journal.

Cognitive surplus also makes tote bags in many of the same fields as their t-shirts and notebooks, including a Great Women of Science tote bag ($19.95)

Periodic Tablewear Laboratory Shot Glasses ($19.98). I got these for a gift exchange last year and they were definitely a hit amongst my fellow scientist friends.

Dinosaur skeleton necklace ($7.99) This necklace is definitely a statement. Not a fan of silver? It comes in 4 colors!

For a more subtle piece of science jewelry, consider this Rose gold Serotonin molecule necklace ($20.99), which also comes in silver.

Oh Chemistree Periodic Table Longsleeved shirt ($17.95) is great for someone who likes to be both festive and rep their love of chemistry during the holiday season.

If you know someone who is into gardening or geeks out about native pollinators, consider getting them a Crown Bees bee house kit (prices vary). I will definitely have a post in the future about bee houses. Long story short, not all bee houses are created equal, and Crown Bees is a company that makes very well designed ones. These are not for keeping honeybees- they are designed for local, solitary bees. These bees (such as mason and leafcutter bees) are extremely important pollinator species. Kits come both with bee cocoons or without them (so you can attract the local bees in your area).

For someone who enjoys looking at the small things in life, consider this wireless digital microscope ($41.99). This is also a good option for any especially inquisitive kids you know.

Any math teachers, mathematicians, or math appreciators in your life may appreciate this clock ($24.95).

For your friend who appreciates some good periodic table mugs, consider one of these Periodically mugs ($18.00)

Alternatively, this “A woman’s place is in the lab” campfire mug ($22.99) makes a great gift for your favorite woman in STEM.

For someone who likes a good science-themed fashion statement, this science infinity scarf ($19.99) is a good option.

Similarly, any chemist you know that appreciates ties will probably enjoy this chemistry equations tie ($18.95)

I can guarantee that these hexagonal graph paper ($10.99) and organic chemistry stencil ($11.99) will definitely be appreciated by anyone you know who is taking organic chemistry, biochemistry, or is otherwise an organic chemist. (I know I wish I had these when I took O chem)

I don’t know about you, but this Solar system necklace ($58.00) definitely exudes Ms. Frizzle to me.

For your doctor, nurse, or loved one who otherwise loves anatomy, consider one of these wooden anatomy Christmas Ornaments ($24.00)

For someone who needs some science-themed art in their home or office, consider these vintage science chemistry patent poster prints ($16.99).

If you know an aerospace engineer, they might like this “principles of flight” tie ($28.00)

This Erlenmeyer mug ($15.99) is a solid staple for any scientist.

This science sticker pack ($6.99) is perfect for decorating water bottles, laptops, notebooks, and more!

Waterlust tiger shark leggings ($69)- these leggings are UPF 50+ and proceeds help support the Shark Research and Conservation Program at the University of Miami. How cool is that?

This book helps celebrate the often underappreciated contributions of 50 women in science ($14.47). Written for ages 10 and up.

You can’t go wrong with this soy-based beaker candle set ($24.00). There are 14 different scents to choose from!

This plush glow-in-the-dark constellation blanket ($29.99) is perfect for anyone you know wo loves being comfy but also gets excited about space.

For your friend who is also into plants, consider this air plant beaker terrarium set ($32.00). Not gonna lie, y’all- I really want this for myself.

Help your loved one show off their love of science with this science face mask ($10.99)

For the computer programmer in your life, consider one of these circuit board ties ($40.00+).

If you know a scientist, I can promise you they can relate to this “Y’all need science” mug ($21.55) this year.

You can’t really go wrong with this set of 5 pair of men’s science dress socks ($22.99)

Science lab socks ($9.00)- perfect for someone who also appreciates puns.

For kids

I hope to expand on this section in the future, but here are a few ideas for the young science enthusiasts in your life:

Cognitive surplus is back at it again with an array of youth-sized science shirts ($21.95)

Little patient anatomy plush toy ($55.00) is a fun way to familiarize kids with human anatomy.

I’ve always loved these GIANT microbes plush toys ($20.95), which show what many bacteria and viruses would look like if you supersized them, then made them adorable and fuzzy.

Entomologist Barbie Doll ($29.99) In collaboration with National Geographic, Mattel has recently produced an amazing line of science-themed Barbies, including a marine biologist ($14.45), astrophysicist ($13.10), robotics engineer ($24.99), wildlife conservationist ($15.99), and wildlife photographer ($14.99).

This kid’s beginner microscope kit ($54.99) is great for helping encourage curiosity. My brother and I definitely had a microscope kit like this as kids and I thought it was *the coolest thing*

Help encourage the kids in your life to feel more like a scientist with this science experiment and lab coat dress up set ($18.99)