With that in mind, here are some cool science gifts, if you are still stumped:
(1) Physics: An Illustrated History of the Foundations of Science (Ponderables 100 Breakthroughs That Changed History) by Tom Jackson - it's an oversized, full color book with a nifty foldout timeline of 1,000 facts. And only a jaw-dropping $19 on Amazon, especially for something that would look cool on a coffee table.
(2) Ballads for the Age of Science by Hy Zaret (the "Unchained Melody" guy) and Lou Singer. 50 years ago these four dozen songs were the most successful educational recordings of all time. What happened? We got duped by Baby Einstein videos. Music is still the way to go, folks. Marshall Marshall McLuhan was not wrong that TV is worse for your brain than radio in lots of ways.
(3) Celestron 21036 PowerSeeker 70AZ Telescope - sure, it has a lot of plastic parts but that keeps the price at a reasonable $65. It is customizable and has 175X zoom. Astronomers out there will tell you that you will never use 175X zoom but that's okay. You can. It's 30 bucks more on Amazon than at other places but they have it in stock with the free two-day shipping so, if you are in a rush, this is a good way to go.
Not everything has to cost big money and have a shipping hassle, of course. If you are a retro nerd and want to make something for your cynical friends, for $4 you can make your own cool wreath. Our Nerd Home shows you how.
Unless your family works at Digital Science, I don't think you want to send instructions on how to build your own particle collider. No one is really sure what would happen if you stuck your hand in the thing and the limits to how much synchtrotron radiation you can manage with tinsel are small
Oh, and you can buy Science Left Behind, of course. It was the first book to break the story that, despite the claims of overwhelmingly partisan science media, being anti-science is not a trait of the right wing. On the most pressing issues of the day, such as food, energy and medicine, the left is far more against reason and data. Not to mention their overwhelmingly superior belief in ghosts, psychics, astrology, homeopathy, organic products and a bunch of other made-up stuff.
Based on my experience, I wouldn't bother with:
An indoor remote-controlled helicopter. Most of them have battery charge only, and it will fly for about 10 minutes. Then, if absolutely anything happens to it, all of the calibration in the world won't make the things fly in a way that would be recognizable to anyone. Backwards, sideways, I have bought cheap ones and expensive ones and they are all pretty cheap.
A microscope. I know this will make life science-oriented parents recoil in horror but after 5 minutes of looking through the thing at little squirming critters, the thrill will be gone and it will be gathering dust. When I was a kid, Reed Richards in The Fantastic Four was always looking through a microscope at something, so I thought that was what science was about. Today, unless it has the word 'electron' in front of it, you're unlikely to excite a kid.