Science Center of Iowa Blog

At the Science Center of Iowa, our goal is to be a quality community resource for informal science learning where children, families, school groups and individuals come to explore science and technology. To continue the learning outside our walls, we give you the SCI blog! Our knowledgeable staff, along with special guests and local scientists, will give you a behind-the-scenes look at SCI activities and in-depth information about science events.

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Young inventor hopes to inspire others to join Making movement

Young inventor hopes to inspire others to join Making movement

By Taylor Soule

Marc Trepanier is eager to share his Canine Cabana invention at the Des Moines Mini Maker Faire on Monday, September 1, but he’s more interested in sharing something else: the magic — and accessibility — of Making.

The 14-year-old inventor subscribes to “Make” magazine and had long hoped to attend a Maker Faire. When he heard about the first-ever Des Moines Mini Maker Faire at the Science Center of Iowa, three words immediately crossed his mind.

“When I realized there was one right here in Des Moines, I said, ‘Why not register?’” Trepanier said.

While the Maker Faire provides an innovative, cutting-edge environment to exhibit the Canine Cabana, Trepanier hopes his invention serves more than dogs — he hopes it inspires new Makers to join the nationwide movement of creativity and resourcefulness.  

“If you show what you can do, they’ll realize, ‘Hey, I can do that. Maybe this isn’t so hard. If I just think about it a little bit, maybe I’ll be able to do it,’” Trepanier said. “People decide to get a subscription to the magazine, decide to go to a Maker Faire, decide to participate in that Maker Faire, and it just continues from there. That’s where it all starts.”


Category: Make@SCI


Action-Reaction: Insight Into Moviemaking

Action-Reaction: Insight Into Moviemaking

By: Gavin Warnock, SCI Maker-in-Residence

Here at the Science Center of Iowa, we recently hosted two workshops on stop-motion animation. We made one movie during our drop-in workshop for teens and another with the family night cohort.

In both settings, we had a fantastic time, and I know this is something I would love to do again with any group I am a part of. Now that we are able to share our products with every one of you visiting SCI’s blog (see below for links), I would like to explore how this type of media works.

All About Animation

First, I would like to talk about animation. graciously provided the definition of animation as "a way of making a movie by using a series of drawings, computer graphics or photographs of objects (such as puppets or models) that are slightly different from one another and that, when viewed quickly one after another, create the appearance of movement."

That’s a long definition, but a straightforward idea: We move something little by little to make it appear to be moving.

Now, how does this work? Why can we not tell a quality animation is a series of images?

A common misconception about animation is that "persistence of vision" is the whole story. Simply put, persistence of vision comes about because our eyes work by taking a bunch of pictures and blurring them together. This is why, if you hold your hand or a pencil in front of your face and wave it about quickly, it will look like you have two of the object you are waving.

This is not the secret of animation! Persistence of vision is, however, the reason we do not see the black spaces in between images on a film strip during a movie (Like a film at the Blank IMAX Dome Theater)!

The real secret to animation is referred to as the phi phenomenon. As unsatisfying as it may be, the phi phenomenon is described as the phenomenon where one perceives movement when shown objects in rapid succession. So, if you have a circle of lights turned off, and someone is flashing them on one at a time in order at the correct rate, it will appear as though one light is moving in a circle. A great .gif example similar to the one I just described can be seen here.

Creating a Stop-Motion Film

On to the creation!

To make our animation, we used a process as simple as we could for a greater chance that everyone might have access to the tools we used. We started with modeling clay. We used this clay and some other craft supplies to create characters and sets.

After we had a storyline, characters and a set, we were ready to start filming. We used a variety of cameras and took pictures as we moved our characters slightly with each image.

After we were done working, we inserted the images to a PowerPoint presentation (Yes, PowerPoint!) and changed the transition time between slides to be automatic after .04 seconds to meet the industry standard 24 frames per second. Finally, we experimented with this transition time until our videos came to life!

The Finished Product

Before you go out and create your own stop-motion animation, take a look at some of the films we've created this summer during Make@SCI!

This first one is from the drop-in Wednesday Workshop on July 16:

The rest are from the Member Family Workshops on July 11:

Category: Make@SCI


Guest Post: Yuri's Night - and Iowa's role in the Space Race

Guest Post: Yuri's Night - and Iowa's role in the Space Race

By: Phil Hahn, SCI Member

I feel very honored to have my article on Yuri's Night posted by the Science Center of Iowa. For some time, I've wanted to write something about the great Space Race and Iowa's fascinating role during those exciting times. It was during that era that science and technology lifted our vision of exploration beyond the earth and achieved the first advances into space, beyond our biosphere.

That's why I have become a strong supporter of the Science Center of Iowa. In this awesome facility, everyone can learn about our fantastic world and the universe around us, in a relaxed and stimulating atmosphere. Especially in the IMAX theater, one gets the experience of being "right there," in virtually any natural environment we could choose, including alien worlds yet to be explored.

Science is becoming awesome and ever more important to our daily lives. Knowing this makes me all the more appreciative of the Science Center of Iowa.

Republished from The Sidereal Times, May 2014.

Thinking of Yuri's Night - the celebration of Russian cosmonaut Yuri Gagarin's pioneering flight into space - reminds me of an exercise in cosmic perspective: One is to lie on the grass and stare up into the clear summer sky at night. Then, the individual doing this exercise is to imagine that he or she is falling downward through an endless universe, past stars and galaxies, never stopping. This experiment is designed to give the participant some intuition of the vastness of space, maybe even (best case scenario) a slight sense of terror.

Yuri Gagarin got his own glimpse of that cosmic perspective when he became the first human being to enter space and orbit the earth on April 12, 1961, aboard Vostok 1, making him "the first person ever to see the Sun rise twice in two hours."

During this trip of only 108 minutes, Yuri was awed by his view of the earth below and the sun against the blackness of space. Although the story released to the public and to the rest of the world contained little hint that anything unexpected had happened during Yuri’s return to earth, the truth was something else: "Just before reentry, the ball's main linkages with the rear equipment module separated correctly, but the umbilical cable, with its dense bundle of electrical wires that transferred power and data to the ball, did not come away cleanly. For several minutes, the ball and rear module remained tied together, like pair of boots with their laces inadvertently knotted. The whole ensemble tumbled end over end in its headlong rush to earth." ("Starman" by Jamie Doran and Piers Bizony)

But Yuri did land - intact - and preserved in the record is a charming story of the first people he met after he left his space capsule near a village. The villagers looked astonished and somewhat fearful, and one of them asked Yuri if it was possible that he had come from outer space. He said that, in fact he had, and to calm their fears, referred to himself as a friend, a citizen of their country. This first "space alien" told them that he needed a telephone to "call Moscow."

The race to space, a battle of science and politics

Of course, there's so much more to this incredible first journey into space. Its history, and the history of this era, is hard for us now to grasp, appreciate or even remember.

John Glenn, the American astronaut who followed Yuri into space on February 20, 1962, noted, "There was this fear that perhaps communism was the wave of the future. The astronauts, all of us, really believed we were locked in a battle of democracy versus communism, where the winner would dominate the world."

  • After Russia stunned the world with Sputnik 1, Moscow was soon able to announce another achievement, sending the first living being, a dog named Laika ("Barker"), into orbit aboard Sputnik 2 on November 3, 1957.
  • The United States then launched its own first satellite, Explorer 1, into space (a much smaller satellite than either Sputnik1 or Sputnik 2) on January 31, 1958.
  • In 1959, Russia attempted a moon mission three times: Luna I missed its target and went into orbit around the sun, Luna II landed on the moon and, finally, Luna III took a photograph, for the first time ever, of the backside of the moon.

By the end of the 1950's, though, one big event remained almost unimaginably important because it had not yet happened -- no human being had ever been sent into space. So the tension was great, and it was "full steam ahead!"

If there ever was any humor during this somber era, it had to have been when Russian Premier Nikita Khrushchev took special note of the first U.S. satellite, Explorer 1. Weighing only 30.8 pounds, it was definitely a lighter load than either Sputnik I or Sputnik II, which weighed 184.3 pounds and 1,121 pounds, respectively. So Khrushchev dubbed the American satellite a “grapefruit.” However, this "grapefruit," although smaller than its Russian counterparts, had one powerful bonus: It carried lightweight instrumentation that discovered radiation belts around the earth – and the instrument was developed by none other than James Van Allen at theUniversity of Iowa (hence,the name: Van Allen Belts).

Khrushchev goes "corn crazy" in Iowa

Of course, there were other realities in the world during the great Space Race. The U.S. and the USSR, the two dominant powers on the globe, seemed to be at a standoff, each wondering about and studying the other. Maybe that's why they decided to "take a break" in September of 1959, when a Soviet delegation came to the United States for a visit.

The Russian delegation toured Iowa, including a one-day visit to the farm of Roswell Garst, located just outside Coon Rapids. (From what I've heard, security was extremely tight, military posts located at points every mile along the way.)

Garst had invited his friend Khrushchev to see American agriculture firsthand. Garst was the founder of a successful seed corn company, had corresponded with the heads of state in Eastern Europe, and had visited Russia. He was selling the Soviets on American agricultural practices and technology. And it worked. During the visit, when the delegation was out walking the fields, Khrushchev lofted a large ear of corn and uttered his famous line (in Russian), "How do you do this?"

It seemed for a while that the space race had been put on the shelf, replaced by another race: agriculture.

Khrushchev initiated an ambitious program to raise corn in Russia. In fact, many Russians referred to Khrushchev as having gone “corn crazy.” After all, raising food is a necessity to any society... traveling into space is not.

Yuri's infamous flight

However, the further exploration of outer space continued to exert its magic influence on the thoughts and dreams of Earth's inhabitants until, finally, another first: On April 12, 1961, a young cosmonaut by the name of Yuri Gagarin waited impatiently in a space module aboard a powerful Vostok 1 rocket somewhere in a secluded and secret part of Russia.

Yuri's tension must have been excruciating, fueled by the expectation that he could, if he survived this unknown ordeal, be the first human being rocketed into space, into orbit around the earth. One can only wonder what his thoughts were. Maybe they included flashbacks to his childhood or to the incredibly rigorous training he underwent for cosmonaut. Or maybe he thought about Laika, the little dog who became the first living being from Earth sent into space, who died in orbit when her space module overheated. Whatever he experienced during those final moments on the launching pad, his patience finally broke. He cried out, "Let's go!"

Whatever his first moments of this experience were, there must have been an eerie feeling of familiarity. Yuri had already experienced the crushing load of G's during many training sessions as Russian scientists pushed him to the limits.

This time, though, it was for real, and he was being lifted up into orbit to obtain that awesome view with its incredibly unique perspective: the earth below, the sun rising twice in two hours.

Category: NASA


Makers in the Community: Jerry Miner

Makers in the Community: Jerry Miner

By Taylor Soule

A drill the diameter of a single hair — no, it isn’t fodder for a science-fiction novel. For Jerry Miner, a CNC programmer at Accumold in Ankeny, it’s an everyday tool.

The 22-year-old provides high-tech software with directions to build complicated microstructures for multiple industries, including aeronautics and medicine. Miner creates tiny structures at Accumold, but they make a big impact.

The company builds miniscule parts for medical procedures. Knowing his work may eventually improve a patient’s health motivates Miner every step of the way. 

“Some of the parts we make here can help save a life, so it’s kind of neat knowing you’re helping somebody out down the road,” Miner said.

He grew up admiring his father’s blacksmithing talent and turned the family farm into a Makers Studio [link to Make@SCI page] of his own. Along with his brother, Miner disassembled multiple tractors and mix-and-matched parts to create a bigger, fancier model.      

That tinkering habit led Miner to high school shop classes and eventually, to an Accumold scholarship and an associate’s degree in tool- and die-making from Des Moines Area Community College.

“In those shop classes, I tried new things and learned a lot,” Miner said. “Now, I’m in an industry that’s growing. There’s always going to be a demand for a skilled, hard-working individual. Being a maker suits me.”

Today, Miner makes on a much different scale than he did in high school. 

With tiny equipment and often-tinier parts, precision is critical in his work at Accumold. Miner uses a tool-scope — the microscope of the manufacturing world — to gauge exact measurements to a dizzyingly minute number. 

“It makes it super challenging because the parts are so small, so I have to cut things super small,” Miner said.

The micro-manufacturing process begins on the computer, where Miner uses the Mastercam software program to provide the CNC machine with instructions to create a part.

Before Miner can even make a part, though, he has to design it. He creates electrodes from graphite or copper that burn the desired shape into steel. Creating the intricate features of each tiny part requires creativity and visualization.    

“I can’t always get my cutters into every little area that I need to on the electrodes,” Miner said. “I have to break it down and use my imagination to see it.”

Finally, when the software and CNC machine complete their work, Miner revels in the completion of another complicated part.  

“It’s kind of a sense of accomplishment,” Miner said. “Almost every mold that comes through Accumold has to come through me or two other guys who do the electrode designing. It’s just kind of neat to know that everything we do here starts with one of us.”

That feeling follows Miner home, too. For Miner, making is more than a career. It’s a way of life.

He recently bought a home and is remodeling the entire interior. Though he used tools larger than a human hair to build a deck on the back of his home, Miner praises the value of making on every scale. That value resides in the movement’s versatility.    

“Making is good because it’s such a wide variety, however you look at it,” Miner said. “Anywhere from working in a company where you’re helping a company make money and helping others with the parts you’re producing, all the way to being at home remodeling your house. You’re making something.”  

Category: Make@SCI


Bailey heads to Boston

Bailey heads to Boston

Yesterday, we bid adieu to our Maker-in-Residence Bailey as she heads to Boston to pursue her dream of making artificial heart valves!

She's been accepted for an engineering co-op position with Boston Scientific in Marlborough, MA, where she will be working with an R&D team that's developing a pulmonary airway stent. 

We wish Bailey the best of luck on her next adventure!

Learn more about Make@SCI.

Category: Make@SCI