10 Nerdy Science Costumes for Halloween

Halloween is only 10 days away and maybe you need a cool (and easy) costume. Because you’re reading this, I’m guessing you have more than a casual interest in science. To celebrate this awesome love, here are 10 very nerdy science costumes.

Credit: 3268zauber via Wikimedia Commons

1. Radio telescope

Listen out for little green men (or the nearest radio galaxy) by transforming yourself this Halloween into your very own radio telescope. Get a group of friends and become a radio array.

The basic idea is to invert an umbrella to form the radio dish and hold (or affix) this against your body. Radio telescopes usually track astronomical objects across the sky as the Earth rotates in order to achieve a less noisy image and to increase resolution. Ideally, dress all in white and spray paint the umbrella white — by absorbing less sunlight, the white color reduces the temperature and thus the intrinsic noisiness of the telescope.

For bonus points, carry around a pocket radio tuned to static noise and pretend you are receiving data from the cosmos.

2. A proton

Schematic of a proton.
Credit: Arpad Horvath via Wikimedia Commons

Here’s a super simple idea for all you particle physicists.

Wear a basic monochrome outfit (e.g. all black clothing). Secure three inflated balloons, one blue, one red, and one green, to your shirt in a rough triangle. Label the balloons ‘u’, ‘u’, and ‘d’ for the two up quarks and one down quark that make up the proton. The color of the specific quarks is arbitrary but all three colors must be present. If you want to mix it up and dress as a neutron, include one up quark and two down quarks instead.
Baryons are the building blocks of atoms and make up the vast majority of mass in our visible universe (i.e. the baryonic universe). Familiar baryons include the proton and the neutron which make up the nuclei of atoms. 
Each baryon contains three quarks and the specific combination of quarks, including their charge, spin, and flavor, determines the overall properties of the baryon. This gives the proton a positive charge while the neutron is neutral. The strong force binds quarks together into baryons (and also mesons), and is so strong that individual quarks are never observed on their own. For more information, check out Fermilab’s particle physics 101 page.

3. Phytoplankton

For all you oceanographers, limnologists, or general biology nerds, dress up as phytoplankton (or zooplankton if you’re feeling particularly creative). The structures, shapes, and colors are endless so get a group of friends together and become a bloom!

A basic costume can be created by dressing in green and using painted cardboard cutouts to assemble a few geometrical shapes fixed to your outfit.

These workhorses of the water provide both essential food for a huge range of fish and whales and absorb vast amounts of carbon during the process of photosynthesis, some of which is then carried to the ocean floor when the plankton die. Phytoplankton come in two types: dinoflagellates (with a narrow tail used for basic movement) and diatoms (which drift via currents in the water).

4. Terminal window

Scientists spend a lot of time on their computers, much of it processing and analyzing data via the terminal (or the command line interface). Embrace this essential aspect of research and dress up as a terminal window! Bonus points for your favorite shell and custom color scheme.

Cut out a large cardboard square and paint a black terminal window with a gray monitor border. With a finer paintbrush or opaque marker, fill up your terminal with command line code and fake directory info. A black and neon green color scheme is classic but you can pick your favorite combo. Fasten the terminal to your outfit (perhaps with shoulder straps) and let the nerdy compliments roll in.

5. Hubble telescope

If the radio telescope idea wasn’t powerful enough for you, move up to a higher frequency in the electromagnetic spectrum and trick or treat as the optical Hubble Space Telescope.

The Hubble Telescope is about the size of a school bus and cylindrical. Try creating a giant tube of cardboard paper, with holes cut out for your arms and face. Cover the tube in aluminum foil. Once secure inside your tube, have someone help you attach cardboard ‘solar panels’ to each of your arms. Get ready for some deep field observing!

6. Neuron

Calling all neurologists. Dress as a brain neuron for your next costume party shindig.

Neuron schematic. Credit: Quasar Jarosz via Wikimedia Commons

Wear a gray sweat shirt / pant combo, and wrap yourself in battery powered white LED christmas lights to represent the electrical signals that power our brain processes (here’s a detailed youtube video all about it). Careful not to pierce the light cable when attaching to the clothing.

You could also make a cardboard head dress to represent the nucleus and dendrites of the neuron, centered around your face.

7. X-ray patient

This Halloween, highlight your favorite bone structures and go as a x-ray patient.
An early x-ray image of a hand by Wilhelm Röntgen.
Credit: Public domain via Wikimedia Commons
X-ray radiation, with its higher frequency and energy than visible light, penetrates skin and allows us to see the hidden internal skeleton. Bones, which have a high calcium content, efficiently absorb most x-rays compared to tissue, and show up clearly on an x-ray detector. Air-filled lungs have a very low absorption rate and are also detectable.
Create a cardboard frame to represent the x-ray detector and use this to frame an image of an arm, leg, or chest x-ray. You could cut out pieces of a skeleton shirt for this or simply print out a large image.

8. Carbon nanotube

Carbon nanotubes are used in an ever-widening range of applications these days, from surfboards to boats, and now you can join in on the fun. 
Carbon nanotubes are cylinders of graphene, rolled up into single or multi-walled structures. They are the strongest known material with extraordinary electrical and thermal properties, yet have a thickness ten thousand times smaller than the width of a human hair. 
At the moment, carbon nanotubes are mostly used in composites to enhance the strength and reduce the weight of a material. But in the future, we should see the unique properties of single nanotube structures used in a wide variety of nanotechnology applications, such as high-performance circuit components and solar cells.
To create this look, you simply need some chicken wire, black spray paint, and wire cutters. Measure out enough chicken wire to wrap yourself in a tube from head to knees. Carefully cut out large holes for your arms, being sure to fold in or tape up any sharp edges (black electrical tape would be useful for this). Paint the wire black (some chicken wire is even sold coated in black vinyl or made entirely out of black plastic). Dress in black and wrap up in your custom carbon nanotube. 

9. Black hole

Nothing will escape your gravitational attraction when you dress as a black hole.

A basic version would simply involve dressing entirely in black including black shoes, gloves, and face paint/mask/balaclava — no light is escaping from you tonight! This would represent an isolated black hole, perhaps created from the death of a massive red giant star, without any nearby star stuff on which to feed.

To go the extra lightyear, create an accretion disk out of an inflatable inner tube painted in ‘hot’ swirls of color like red, yellow, and orange. The accretion disk is the whirlpool of material falling inwards towards the event horizon of the black hole. Because of extreme gravitational and frictional forces, accretion disks reach temperatures ranging from hundreds of thousands to billions of degrees Kelvin and emit thermal X-rays as a result.

10. Scientist on a conference

If all else fails and you need an easy last-minute costume, you can always go as a scientist on a conference. Conference attire is typically very casual but the classic look might be a boring blue button down t-shirt and a pair of khaki slacks. This is gender neutral. Affix a name badge stating your real or scientist name and university, and you’re good to go!

Have a nerdy Halloween!

By Tamela Maciel, also known as “pendulum”

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