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


SCI Camps: Wizard Mania

SCI Camps: Wizard Mania

By: Kathleen Diedrich, SCI Summer Camp Educator

What's going on at SCI Summer Camp this month? Kathleen Diedrich, a SCI Summer Camp Educator, gives a behind-the-scenes look at one of her 1st-2nd grade camps, Wizard Mania.

During Wizard Mania camp, the kids took the "Wizarding Oath" to only use the magic tricks and spells they learned for good. Using their brand new wizard wands, their handmade flying broomsticks (made from Elder Wood, of course) and their magical wizard hats, the kids made Butter Beer, floating gloves, levitating ice, color changing potions, turned invisible and played a competitive game of Quidditch.

Beyond simply magic tricks, the kids learned and were able to explain the science behind movie magic and effects, magicians' secrets and science's role in the world of wizardry. 

Sprinkling salt over an ice cube allowed students to perform a levitation trick with string. Simple table salt melts the ice cube, and the string's fibers freeze to the cube. The ice cube appeared to be levitated only by holding the string up in the air. 

Campers used a simple vinegar and baking soda reaction to make a rubber glove float in air. This reaction created carbon dioxide, filling up the glove with gas - just like a balloon! This vinegar and baking soda combination also created fizzy, bubbly potions. Some potions even changed colors with time-releasing food coloring. 

Over the course of the week, the wizards-in-training tried their hands at mind reading and tricks of perception. Changing the positioning of different objects makes some appear larger and some smaller, a trick used in many films to create the look of giants or small people. We taught the campers a partner mind reading trick to convince an audience that they have telepathic powers. 

Each wizard had the opportunity to choose which type of wood would work best for their broomsticks, each wood having different flying qualities. Some woods are best for independent people or those who like to travel. Other woods fly quickly but are hard to control. One wood even responds only to its owner. Campers chose the type of wood that best fit their personalities and their needs. 

Registration is still available for select camps through August 16. Learn more at

Category: Camps


Does our building look greener to you?

Does our building look greener to you?

New lights = Big savings

This month, we converted three of our largest spaces – Founders Hall, the A-ha! Gift Store and the Food Chain Café – to all LED lightbulbs.

Here are a few of the numbers:

3,000 - Number of hours light bulbs are in use per year at SCI.
In these public spaces, the lights are on for at least eight hours a day every day that we’re open – that’s nearly 3,000 total hours per year!

184 - Number of bulbs that were replaced in total.

19.5 - Watts per bulb of new LEDs.
In Founders Hall alone, 160 traditional incandescent light bulbs were replaced with LEDs, reducing the power usage from 250 watts per bulb.

What’s so cool about these new lightbulbs?

  • They’re more efficient! The new LEDs use 19.5 watts of power compared to 250 watts with traditional incandescent bulbs.
  • They last longer! Traditional incandescent light bulbs need to be replaced 2-3 times per year, after 1,000 hours of usage. The new LEDs are rated at 45,000 hours of lamp life, meaning we won’t need to replace them for 15 years!
  • They translate to big savings! In Founders Hall alone, our estimated annual energy cost will decrease from nearly $14,000 to just over $1,000. This easily makes up for the initial cost of the more expensive LED bulb.
  • They’re greener! In addition, we’ll use just 8 percent of the energy we’ve been consuming with incandescent bulbs. By replacing the bulbs in just these three rooms, we will save more than 136,000 kW hours of energy usage.

How much is 136,000 kW hours?

For perspective, the 136,000 kW hours of energy we’ll save with these new LED light bulbs is equal to:

  • 82 barrels of oil
  • 56,000 tons of coal

But we’re not done yet! Over the next several months, our Exhibits and Facilities Team will swap out incandescent bulbs with LEDs in many of SCI’s other spaces. See if you notice a difference the next time you visit!

Category: General SCI


On the BIG Screen: Why see Oblivion in IMAX?

On the BIG Screen: Why see Oblivion in IMAX?

By: Justin Rule, SCI Chief IMAX Projectionist

Disclaimer: I’m not a film critic, so I won’t be giving a critical review of the film. I am, however, an avid movie watcher and, more specifically, a sci-fi fan!

Oh, I'm also in charge of the Science Center of Iowa’s Blank IMAX Dome Theater, and I was able to preview the film on our six-story IMAX dome this week! All of these things qualify me to let you know why IMAX is the best way to see Oblivion, Tom Cruise’s new action-packed sci-fi flick!

If you’ve heard anything about Oblivion, you’ve heard that - above all - it’s visually stunning. Writer/Director Joseph Kosinski (who's also from Marshalltown, Iowa) knew from the very beginning that he wanted his vision to be shown and look amazing in IMAX. 

Here are a few of the things that make this film perfectly suited for IMAX:

  • Sony's CineAlta F65 camera was used for filming. This digital camera captures images at 4K resolution (that’s 4,000 lines of horizontal resolution), which results in an image with twice the clarity of most digitally captured films.
  • To avoid using green screens, Kosinski utilized a 500 ft wide, 42 ft tall, 270 degree wrap-around screen that used 21 projectors to create a super-high-definition, 15K resolution video of clouds and background action. This means that the background images you see in the movie were filmed in real-time using a super-HD projection that looks stunning on-screen SCI’s six-story IMAX screen.
  • To utilize the larger IMAX screens to their full advantage, the IMAX version of Oblivion is presented with a larger aspect ratio. This means most of the letterboxing (black bars at the top and bottom of the image) have been removed. While most Hollywood films only use 60% of the IMAX screen due to the standard theater letterboxing, Oblivion is shown with minimal letterboxing, presenting an image that fill 80-85% of the entire screen! This is very, very rare, but quite a treat while watching Oblivion at SCI! Tom Cruise even said, "This film is made for IMAX!"
  • Lastly, the cinematography has been done perfectly for the large IMAX screen! When a film is shown in such a large format, steady camera movements, beautiful wide-angle scenes and screen-centered action are key! Oblivion does all of this and more.

For more behind-the-scenes action from Oblivion, check out this 3-minute video Oblivion: IMAX Behind the Frame

The Science Center of Iowa’s Blank IMAX Dome Theater is your place for this summer's most-anticipated sci-fi summer flicks, kicking off with Oblivion, then Star Trek Into Darkness on May 15 (2 days early in IMAX) and Man Of Steel starting June 14! It’s going to be an action-packed summer at SCI!

Oblivion runs through May 2. Get your tickets here!

Justin Rule is SCI's Chief IMAX Projectionist.

Category: IMAX


Ornithology (or why Jenny collects dead birds)

Jenny collected this Junco on November 1, 2012. It will be donated to Drake University's museum curation class this spring.

Jenny collected this Junco on November 1, 2012. It will be donated to Drake University's museum curation class this spring.

By: Jenny Koska, SCI Programs Coordinator

"I saw a dead bird. It made me think of you."

Most people would probably be insulted, shocked or a little put off if this was said to them. I’m not. I just ask where they saw it and the state of decomposition it was in. 

You collect dead birds?

You see, when I find a dead bird, I pop it in a freezer and then take it over to Drake University. 

Drake has a program in its biology department that stuffs birds and turns them into study skins. I used to participate in this program while I was in school. Now that I've graduated, I still support the program by providing birds found around the Science Center of Iowa. 

You see, sometimes, birds get confused by windows… That whole being clear thing, it’s tricky. When the birds don’t quite win the battle against the window, I’ll take them and have them live forever in a museum or a university. 

I suppose I should be clear about my dead bird collection, because I fear that you're all judging me. I don’t have freezers full of dead birds: that would be weird. But, at times, you can find one or two birds nestled between my ice cream and popsicles.

Why bother?

When creating the study skin (kind of like taxidermy, but less for art and more for research), you find a lot out about the life of the bird. You can find out how old it is, what its diet consists of, what season it died in and how it died. Essentially, the life of the bird is immortalized. 

Scientists will use the skin and the information gathered in their studies for hundreds of years! The skins will be used in papers that examine the evolution of certain features on a bird. For example, how the coloring of feathers change over time, or how the eye of a birds evolves. The skins also can be used to figure out how a disease spreads in a bird population. 

Get it yet?

I hope you’re starting to see that it’s actually pretty cool (and not that weird).

The benefit of collecting dead birds is that they can be sent all over the world to be studied! In fact, the next time you are at a museum or taking a tour of a university and you see birds that have been preserved, check where they were collected. It just might be the Science Center of Iowa.


Jenny Koska is a Program Coordinator at SCI. As part of her job, she figures out different ways to blow things up and light things on fire to further program development here at SCI and for the entertainment of SCI’s participants and staff. Jenny studied Environmental Science and Environmental Policy at Drake University. She has worked at SCI since May 2011, when she started as a Programs Presenter.

Category: General SCI


Women in Science: Meteorologist Megan Salois

Women in Science: Meteorologist Megan Salois

By: Megan Salois, WHO-HD Channel 13 meteorologist

The weather is amazing.

Since I was a little girl, the beauty, the power and the ferocity of the weather would mystify and even scare me! I loved laying outside in the grass and look up at the clouds, wondering why clouds float.

I grew up in Georgia, and one of the biggest weather stories was the Blizzard of 1993. I remember watching hours of coverage of the snow (every time I took a break from playing outside). For Christmas, my mom purchased the local news station's compilation VHS of their blizzard coverage. I still have that tape today!

When I would hear a rumble of thunder while playing outside, I'd rush indoors to turn on the television and watch my favorite meteorologist, WSB-TV's Glenn Burns, tracking the storm. I'll admit I was a little scared... This fear and awe is what led me to want to learn more about the calm and the danger of weather. If I knew what caused a storm and I knew that I could track the storm, I knew I could control my fate when it came to the affect any storms may have on me.

A day in the life of a meteorologist

As a broadcast meteorologist, I'm able to reach out on a regular basis and share my love of the weather with the community. I can also benefit the community by helping to make them aware of severe weather that may have a significant impact on their lives.

The job of a broadcast meteorologist involves a mix of science, creativity and communication. I love that I can come into work, delve into the future weather possibilities for Central Iowa and then create maps and graphics using computers to explain to my audience how the weather will influence their day. I'm a naturally social person, so it’s fun to have a dialogue with my viewers and co-anchors about the weather on a daily basis. I also love the outreach involved in visiting area schools and sharing what I know about the weather with kids.

Interested in a career in meteorology?

To become a broadcast meteorologist, you'll need to plan on going to a four-year college after graduating high school. Some meteorologists on TV studied broadcast journalism, as well as took a few extra years of coursework to earn a certificate in broadcast meteorology. Other broadcast meteorologists go straight to the science and work their way through a four-year program to earn a degree in meteorology.

If you love the weather but don’t want to be on television, there are other weather-related careers! For example:

  • You can work for the National Weather Service as a meteorologist.
  • There are meteorologist firms that forecast privately for farmers and city road crews to prepare for weather that may affect them.
  • You can join the U.S Air Force and forecast the weather for the military.
  • Big sporting events often times hire meteorologist to focus on the weather during their event to make sure everyone participating stays safe!
  • You can even become a storm chaser and take people on wild adventures across the country to try to catch a tornado with your own eyes.
  • And everyday citizens can become storm spotters for the National Weather Service. No meteorology degree is required for that! You just need to go to one of the National Weather Services training courses!

The sky is the limit with a career or interest in the weather!


For more information on Megan’s forecasts, as well as the rest of the weather team, visit You can also follow Megan on Facebook and Twitter

For more information on the National Weather Services Storm Spotter classes, visit:


Meteorologist Megan Salois joined the Channel 13 First Alert Storm Team in April 2006. Megan has been granted her AMS Seal of Approval from the American Meteorological Society and is a member of the National Weather Association. You can see her on Channel 13's popular Today in Iowa Saturday and Sunday programs as well as Channel 13 News at Noon.

Megan grew up outside Atlanta, GA where she gained interest in weather at a young age when her father was struck lightning and survived. She earned her Certificate in Broadcast Meteorology from Mississippi State University in 2005 and her Bachelor s degree in journalism from The University of Georgia. Megan’s favorite type of weather to forecast is severe thunderstorms and tornado outbreaks. Her most memorable moments forecasting tornadoes include the Ladysmith, Wisconsin tornado and the Parkersburg, Iowa tornado.

Category: General SCI