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.

Latest Posts


This summer, "Making" comes to SCI!

This summer, "Making" comes to SCI!

By: Allison Schwanebeck, SCI Exhibits Director

SCI is excited to announce that we have been selected by the Maker Education Initiative (Maker Ed) as 2014 Maker Corps site! 

Maker Ed’s mission is to create more opportunities for young people to develop confidence, creativity and spark an interest in science, technology, engineering, math, the arts and learning as a whole through making. 

SCI is fairly new to the Maker movement, but we believe making can be a great way of engaging new and existing audiences. The prototyping, testing, experimenting, invention and innovation that is present in Making helps further SCI’s mission of engaging and inspiring Iowans along their lifelong journey of science learning.

SCI is planning on summer 2014 to be a "Summer of Making." We hope to engage and teach the community about Making throughout the summer, culminating in a Mini Maker Faire. 

Join the team... join the Maker Corps!

Through our participation in the Maker Corps program, we are excited to have two Maker Corps Members to join the SCI team. Maker Corps Members will be a key part of our programming and will be working closely with our education department to develop and facilitate Making opportunities and activities.   Additionally, SCI is looking to develop a volunteer maker program with our Maker Corps Members so that Making at SCI can continue year-round! 

What is it like to be part of the SCI team? We are really passionate about learning and sharing our knowledge with our visitors... and with each other. It is fairly common to hear the phrase "Experiment Time!" come across the radio or be sent out to staff via email. When this happens, most of our staff take a break from their day to see the latest experiment that is being prototyped. Past experiment times have included exploding pumpkins, melting pennies with an old television screen and, most recently, a blow-torch made out of bacon. 

It is our hope that our Maker Corps Members will not only engage our public audience, but share their passion for making with our staff and help us foster a culture of making within our organization.   We expect you to geek out and share about what you have made, learned or when you’ve had a meaningful experience with a visitor.  

Interested in applying to be a Maker Corps Member? Visit to learn more and apply. The all for applications is open February 3 through March 21!

Allison Schwanebeck is SCI’s Exhibits Director. Allison has worked at SCI since June 2007 and has served in prior roles as Programs Presenter and Traveling Exhibits Manager.

Category: General SCI


Science is Complex... And so is Bacon.

Science is Complex... And so is Bacon.

Since announcing Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival Jr., a family-friendly event that will teach science education through the mysteries of bacon, we have received feedback from members of the community, some positive and some negative. So, we wanted to take a minute to share our thoughts with you.

Most importantly, our intention with this event is to blend the mission of the Science Center of Iowa (SCI), to engage Iowans along their journey of lifelong science learning, with our community’s highly popular celebration of bacon, a food product that has its roots in the heart and soul of Iowa.

As a science museum, we look for opportunities to make science learning both interesting and entertaining. Our Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival Jr. event does just that. As a scientific institution, however, we also recognize our responsibility to be a resource of information that helps engage our citizens in scientific discussions that are often controversial. We understand that nothing in science is as simple as it may appear… not even bacon.

SCI is a place to learn about science, whether that’s by engaging with an exhibit or convening for lively discussion. It’s a place that encourages and supports informed and personal choices, no matter where you land on a controversial science topic.

To that end, we turned to Leo Landis, a guest presenter for Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival Jr. for additional resources on the topic of pork production and bacon.

Leo has earned the local title of “Bacon Professor.” He grew up in Clive on acreage with chickens and earned a degree in history from Iowa State University (ISU). Landis later worked at Living History Farms, where he had had the opportunity to work with pigs and make bacon. In 2006, he offered a class entitled, “All About Bacon” through both Des Moines Public Schools and Living History Farms. While Landis is currently employed as Museum Curator for the State Historical Museum of Iowa, his love of bacon has endured. We also turned to ISU to share their resources on the many types of pork production in Iowa.

We have assembled these resources at If we haven’t provided what you are looking for, please give us a call at 515-274-6868 ext. 238. We know we can connect you to the information you need.

Finally, if you’ve made a choice not to eat bacon, we respect that. Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival Jr. is just one of many events at SCI, and we sincerely hope you will visit on another day to continue your journey of lifelong science learning through a topic that may be of more personal interest to you. A listing of upcoming events can be found at

Category: General SCI


Celebrate Solar Week!

Make a solar cooker at home or in your classroom with a pizza box, aluminum foil and a few other supplies!

Make a solar cooker at home or in your classroom with a pizza box, aluminum foil and a few other supplies!

By: Richard Miles, SCI Programs Coordinator

Next week is Solar Week, and everyone can participate!

Each day of Solar Week (October 21-25) will focus on a different aspect of solar science. At the Solar Week website, you will find games, activities, and a message board where you can interact with solar scientists. Teachers also can find sun-related curriculum for their classroom!

On Friday, October 25, and Saturday, October 26, SCI will be participating in Solar Week by featuring various solar activities and demos throughout the day. Visitors will be able look at the Sun through solar telescopes, see how sunlight can change the color of some materials and even witness how the sun’s energy can be harnessed to melt a copper penny! Check out our Daily Program Guide for details.

For anyone interested in doing some cool solar activities at home or in the classroom, you can find several here. (And, once NASA is back online, here.) But for starters, here’s one of my favorite DIY solar activities – it lets you harness the Sun’s energy to make your very own oven!

Solar Cooker Activity


  • Pizza Box (empty and clean)
  • Aluminum Foil
  • Black Paper
  • Saran Wrap
  • Scissors
  • Tape
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Hot dogs or s’mores


  • Close the pizza box and use the ruler to draw a 9” by 9” square opening in the center of the lid.
  • Using the scissors, cut along three of the lines you just drew on the lid. By leaving one side uncut, you will have created a cardboard flap in the lid of your box.
  • Wrap aluminum foil around the cardboard flap of your box. The bottom side of the flap should be completely covered with aluminum foil. You can use tape (or glue) to hold the aluminum foil on the flap.
  • Lift the flap, and stretch saran wrap completely across the 9” by 9” opening in the pizza box. Use tape to completely seal the opening with the Saran wrap.
  • Now, open the pizza box and cover the inside and bottom of the box with aluminum foil.
  • Tape a piece of black paper on top of the foil in the bottom of the box. (You can paint or color a sheet of paper black if you want, or black cloth will work fine too.)
  • Place a paper plate on top of the black paper in your box.
  • Place a hotdog or s’more on the paper plate.
  • Close the pizza box and use the unsharpened pencil to prop open the flap in your lid.
  • Place the box in the Sun so that the foil on the flap reflects onto the food in your pizza box (you may have to adjust the way the pencil holds the flap open to accomplish this).
  • Check on your food every 10 minutes or so until it is warm.

WARNING: You should only attempt to cook and consume items in this oven that are pre-cooked. This oven is only intended to warm pre-cooked food and is not safe for cooking raw ingredients.

Respect the sun… don’t stare at it!

One more thing I want to mention about the Sun is that it’s very important to respect how powerful the Sun’s energy can be. Please do not attempt to look at the Sun directly in any way, and do not try to focus the Sun’s energy with lenses or magnifying glasses. Doing so could result in serious eye injury or fire.

I hope you have fun with the solar cooker activity, and I hope you will come down to celebrate Solar Week with us here at the Science Center of Iowa!


Richard Miles is a Programs Coordinator at SCI and our resident astronomy expert. As part of his job, Richard presents live science programs to SCI participants and helps develop new programming. He studied physics and astronomy at Drake University and Iowa State University. Richard worked at SCI from 1992-2002 and returned to SCI in September of 2011.

Category: NASA


Guest Blog: Why we love SCI

Guest Blog: Why we love SCI

By: Brandy Cunningham, 2013 event chair of SCI's Annual Fundraising Event & Auction

If your family is anything like ours, we are always looking for ways to beat the summer heat!

That often means we turn to the Science Center of Iowa as a cool afternoon getaway that provides an awesome and fun learning environment for our sons. Even though we have been to SCI numerous times, every time we visit, we discover something that we hadn’t ever noticed before. It seems like they are always adding new exhibits!

We are so fortunate to have such a great resource right here in Des Moines, and that is just one of the many reasons that we are honored to be the Co-Chairs for the Science Center of Iowa’s 15th Annual Event & Auction.

The money raised from the event helps to underwrite the programming and exhibits offered at SCI so many more children and families can enjoy the Science Center of Iowa just as we do!

Not only does the money go to a great cause, but the event itself is not to be missed. With tasty appetizers, outstanding entertainment and fabulous cocktails, you will have never have had so much fun at a fundraising event!

So please mark your calendars for Friday, August 23, and visit the website to purchase tickets. We can’t wait to see you there!

Category: General SCI


SCI Camps: Robot Rumble

SCI Camps: Robot Rumble

By: Anna McCleary, SCI Summer Camp Educator

What a better way to spend the hottest week of the summer so far than building and playing with robots at science camp! 

Last week, the 3rd and 4th grade SCI summer campers learned all about robots and electronics during Robot Rumble camp. Kids experimented with circuits, made robots and saw different types of robots that are used by professionals.

The Des Moines Bomb Squad brought in their robots and showed the kids how robots are used to keep them safe. Campers got a chance to get up close and personal with two of the bigger bomb squad bots. They loved watching the robots pass a water bottle and move their cameras, though their favorite was the toy robot that talked and danced. 

One of the coolest things we did was use robot arms. We challenged campers to write their name, draw a picture, pass blocks and build towers using the remote-controlled robots. Most pictures were random dots and lines, but some kids made legible writing! Campers used teamwork to pass a block from robot arm to robot arm without dropping it (most times). They loved using the video-game-like controller to move the arm’s shoulder, elbow, wrist and hand.

Later in the week, we took a day to visit DMACC Department of Electronics, Robotics and Automation.  We observed students making metal and plastic parts that could be used in robots and other machines, computer-operated machines carve out molds and a "MakerBot" turn strings of plastic into souvenir key chains. Campers then got to operate complex robot arms. After the practice at SCI, they were experts!

The kids’ favorite robots were the super fast solar racing cars. These DIY robot kits were fun for the campers to put together and see work. Not having tested them, I wasn’t sure how fast the cars would be, but once we got them outside, the cars nearly ran away! The kids liked making them start and stop by covering the cars with their shadows.

My favorite robot (and an easy one to make at home) is the Art Bot. Powered by a vibrating toy motor and two AA batteries, these robots twirl and bounce around making fun designs and patterns. The kids loved putting them together, figuring out how to make them work better and watching them draw. 

Science Center of Iowa Camps use project-based curriculum on a variety of subjects and provide hands-on experiences to spark young explorers' interest in science. Registration is still available for select camps through August 16. Learn more at

Category: Camps