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


Baby (snake) boom at SCI!

Proud mama snake with her 70 babies!

Proud mama snake with her 70 babies!

SCI was buzzing yesterday with news that our red-sided garter snake gave birth to not 1, not 10... but 70 BABIES!

Our Facebook and Twitter pages were bursting with your comments about the picture we posted -- ranging from meteorologist Megan Salois’s post on Twitter: “I just learned a garter snake here at @SCIOWA gave birth to 67 snakes this AM! Sounds cool, huh?” to Facebook comments: “I don't mind snakes, but this gives me the heebee-jeebees!! Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!”

A lot of you had questions and were interested in learning more about this unusual birth. We passed along your questions to SCI’s Animal Specialist, Mark, who gave us these fun facts about the red-sided garter:

Scientific name: Thamnophis sirtalis parietalis

"Do they always have that many??" The average number of babies that a red-sided garter snake will have varies depending on the size of the snake. On average, they will have approximately 20-30. The most red-sided garter snakes born at one time was 89 (was not in the state of Iowa).

"As in live birth? Not eggs?" Yes! This was a live birth - it took a couple of hours.

"What is SCI going to do with 70 baby snakes?" We will wait for a rainier weather pattern before we release the snakes. The plan is to release them in a suitable habitat, probably near a pond. The red-sided garter snake is one of the only unprotected snakes in the state of Iowa.

"Now let's see how many she eats." Red-sided garters do not eat their young.

Learn more about red-sided garter snakes online or by visiting our What On Earth? experience platform!

Category: General SCI


Getting in tune with nature with iEARTH camp

iEARTH is a partnership between the Science Center of Iowa and Des Moines Park and Recreation

iEARTH is a partnership between the Science Center of Iowa and Des Moines Park and Recreation

By: David Drucker, 2012 iEARTH counselor

At iEARTH camp, we believe that nature is a very important aspect of life and that all children should be given the opportunity to have a hands-on nature experience.

As we’ve been going through these past few weeks of iEARTH camp, we do our best to introduce new knowledge to the children about a variety of aspects about nature. From Pre-K to 2nd grade, there are a few subjects that we like to focus on. Those subjects include The Wonders of Nature, The Green on Plants, Animal Antics, Birding Around and I Wanna ROCK. We take each of these categories and go into great detail.

Each day, we find specific activities that reflect what and how we learn the material. For example, for The Green on Plants, we have created a song called “Be the Leaf” which reflects the life of a plant starting from a seed. Another example is animal tracks. We let the children create animals tracks of their own based on some animals we might see around Iowa.

As counselors of the iEARTH camp, our overall goal is to make sure the kids are informed about nature and that they are learning at least one new thing each and every week! To check their comprehension on the material for the day, we create individual nature journals. Theses journals are personalized for each student. In the last 45 minutes of camp each day, we give kids time to add significant drawings about something they found interesting in nature!

As important as learning is in camp, fun is also a top priority of iEARTH camps! We have a least one adventure every day during our nature walks throughout Greenwood Park. On these walks, we provide general knowledge about the things we see in nature, and it gives the kids an opportunity to explore around nature and see what they can find! Another perk of these walks is that the kids get to learn fun camp songs and just enjoy being outside with a group of children having a fantastic time!

iEARTH camp is a very enjoyable camp for the kids, and it gets them in tune with nature!

Learn more about iEARTH camp.

David Drucker is a 2012 iEARTH camp counselor at SCI.

Category: General SCI


Train Like An Astronaut: Do you have what it takes?

Do you have what it takes to Train Like An Astronaut?

Do you have what it takes to Train Like An Astronaut?

By: Catherine Lowe, SCI Education Coordinator

What does it take to become an astronaut? I would guess if you asked most people, they would respond with, “Intelligence,” or perhaps, “Patience.” Physical fitness is not always the first thing people think of. However, it is a key ingredient in succeeding in space. Astronauts need to be in peak physical condition even before they journey into space to help combat the muscle loss and changes their bodies will experience in a micro-gravity environment.

Right now, as you sit on our great planet Earth reading this, your body is working. Gravity is pulling you down, and your body is using muscles to keep you sitting upright. While in space, the bodies of astronauts are no longer working against that force, which in turn, causes them to lose muscle strength and coordination.Coordination is using your muscles to move your body the way you want it to move.

Another big change between Earth and space is a human’s ability to balance. We all have tiny organs in our ears that are filled with a liquid that communicates to our brains whether we are right-side-up or upside-down. In space, the liquid isn’t held down by gravity – it sort of just floats around in there. During the first few days of space flight, astronauts experience a change in their spatial awareness and sense of balance. Even after returning to Earth, their brain has to relearn how to use information from their eyes, muscles and the organs in their ears to help control their body movement.

All of this means that it is incredibly important that astronauts are in peak physical condition before leaving Earth and that they continue a fitness routine while in space. NASA recently released information and videos sharing some of the training exercises astronauts perform before going to space. SCI has decided to join in on the fun and offer our newest program, Train Like an Astronaut.

Train Like an Astronaut will feature physical fitness activities straight from NASA, videos of astronauts in action and a discussion about eating healthy. I am so excited because this is something totally different from the programs we traditionally offer. This program is part of the Let’s Move! initiative launched by the First Lady Michelle Obama, dedicated to solving the problem of obesity through education and interactive activities.

Train Like an Astronaut premiers this Saturday, June 16, at 1 pm and is free with general admission to SCI. It also will be offered July 21 and August 18. The program will last 30 minutes and is open to astronauts of all ages. If you’ll be joining us, an RSVP is encouraged to I hope to see you there!

Catherine Lowe is SCI’s Education Coordinator. As part of her job, Catherine travels the state visiting libraries, schools and communities sharing interactive science presentations. When not driving across Iowa, she works to develop new programs and exhibit guides. Catherine studied elementary education at Iowa State University. She has worked at SCI since February 2011, when she started as a Programs Presenter.


Asteroid Deflection (in 140 characters or less)

Bong Wie is Director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University

Bong Wie is Director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University

Did you miss Tuesday's Café Scientifique - Deflecting Disaster: Preventing an Asteroid Apocalypse? Bong Wie, Director of the Asteroid Deflection Research Center at Iowa State University, presented on the technology his team is developing to prevent an asteroid from crashing into Earth, changing the world as we know it.

Here's a quick recap of the highlights of the presentation from our live-tweeting Marketing Coordinator, Emilee Richardson:

• Tonight's #CafeSci - "Deflecting Disaster: Preventing an Asteroid Apocalypse" - I'll be sharing snippets over the next hour!

• We'll discuss practically-viable, technically-feasible, cost-effective solutions for deflecting asteroids & comets.

• Asteroids: 101... NEO = Near-Earth object; 300 m asteroid = 40 billion kg; asteroid orbital speed = 30 km/s.

• A 10-km asteroid caused the extinction of the dinosaurs. A 2-km asteroid struck Mason, IA, 74 million years ago.

• A 50-m asteroid exploded over Siberia in 1908 w/ the equivalent damage of 600 Hiroshima nuclear bombs.

• In 2029, a 300-m asteroid will miss Earth by 36,000 km. (Too close for comfort!)

• Low-energy asteroid deflection: Tugboats, gravity tractors, solar sails, mass drivers. BUT, they require a longer lead time.

• Nuclear explosive options: Flyby near-surface blast, surface contact burst, penetrated subsurface explosion.

• Problem: Nuclear device can't withstand high-speed impact with asteroid.

• After destroying an asteroid w/ nuclear explosion, some debris will likely impact Earth. But damage would be minimal.

• RT @k_blythe: NASA found 167 technical flaws in the movie "Armageddon." Imagine that! ;) #CafeSci

Café Scientifique is SCI's monthly event series that engages Central Iowa's adult learning community in contemporary science. The next Café Scientifique takes place on Monday, July 9 - Training Champions: The Team Behind the Athletes.

Follow SCI on Twitter and Facebook for news and science updates, as well as live updates from many of our events!

Category: General SCI


Mars is almost here.

Crews are busy installing Facing Mars this week before the exhibit opens on Saturday, June 2!

Crews are busy installing Facing Mars this week before the exhibit opens on Saturday, June 2!

By: Allison Schwanebeck, SCI Traveling Exhibits Manager

DaVinci. The human body. Ancient Egypt. Mars.  

Learning about a variety of subjects has always been one of my favorite things about working at SCI.  As traveling exhibits manager, it’s my job to learn about new things as we prepare for a new exhibit. I get to dive into a topic and learn as much as possible, and right now, I’m all about Mars.

Did you know that sunsets on Mars are typically blue because of the dust particles in the atmosphere? How cool is that?!

I also get to work with an amazing team of people from many of the different departments within SCI to create a fun, unique and engaging experience for each exhibit. Typically, the SCI team works on a traveling exhibit for six months to a year planning, developing, scheduling, designing and implementing what you will experience when you visit one of our traveling exhibits. (Funny enough, that’s about the amount of time it would take to travel to Mars!)

The last month before opening is always the busiest. On average, we spend two weeks packing up the exhibit that just closed and sending it off to the next museum. It always amazes me that taking down an exhibit goes so quickly after all of the hard work that goes into setting it up. When installing an exhibit, everything needs to go like clockwork. We spend the week before the exhibit arrives preparing the space with painting, lighting and any other special needs that the exhibit may require. The trucks carrying the exhibit arrive two weeks before opening, and it is full steam ahead unpacking crates, building the exhibit components and putting everything in its proper place.

Right now, we are just days away from the opening day of Facing Mars, and I think this is one of the most exciting times for the SCI team. Everything is in motion, the exhibit is getting the finishing touches, staff and volunteers are being trained and experiments are being finalized.

Would you go to Mars? I hope the answer is yes, because we are so excited to share Facing Mars with you! The exhibit opens this Saturday!

Allison Schwanebeck is SCI’s Traveling Exhibits Manager. As part of her job, Allison researches potential traveling exhibits, then helps execute the planning, installation and operations of the exhibits selected for SCI to host. Allison has worked at SCI since June 2007, when she started as a Programs Presenter.