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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STEM in DSM: Iowa students develop custom apps for SCI

STEM in DSM: Iowa students develop custom apps for SCI

SCI is moving into the 21st Century with the help of Iowa students who, this semester, will develop a “Design Your Visit to SCI” app for Android devices.

In a world constantly buzzing with text messages, gadgetry, virtual reality and beyond, middle and high school students are already up-and-coming tech experts. HyperStream Clubs take that know-how to a new level by inviting students from across Iowa to build tech projects in an after-school setting. Each semester features a new proposal.

This semester, students will use Appinventor software to design, build and prototype an app that guides participants to the SCI attractions and features that best fit the ages and interests of their group. The project will provide an opportunity for students to work directly with a client. Then, in December, each club will present its product, and SCI staff will provide feedback before selecting a winner.

For Callanan Middle School club mentor Keith Huls, each semester-long contest is about more than crowning a winner and unveiling a new product: It’s about developing Iowa’s innovation ecosystem.

“We hope to build a strong technical foundation that keeps people in the state,” said Huls, an IT application analyst lead at Principal Financial Group. “At Principal, we want to have a deeper technical pool, and it starts with a strong technical foundation here. We are investing in the future for the state.”

That future starts with a simple model: feedback. While students may complete a classroom assignment, receive a grade and toss the finished product, HyperStream Clubs create dialogue as students collaborate with peers and clients to revise and improve projects.

Stacy Monroe, an IT application analyst senior at Principal and Huls’ co-mentor, said the SCI app will provide an opportunity for students to become user experience designers.

“This is a good opportunity for students to develop a product, get it in front of a client and say, ‘Does this make sense? Does it work like you expect it to?’ and then take it back and make changes,” Monroe said. “That’s real-world experience of what IT is.”

As co-mentors, Monroe and Huls strive to instill confidence through a guiding idea:You’realreadya tech producer.

“Students are already developing multimedia every time they use Snapchat and Instagram,” Huls said. “Technology sparks creativity. With technology, the tools are there, and the cost to get involved is typically pretty low. It gives students the confidence that they can do things, they can build apps, they can develop multimedia.”

This is the first year the Technology Association of Iowa, HyperStream’s parent organization, has partnered with a nonprofit in the community on a project inspired by all three organizations’ missions: inspiring the next generation of Iowa tech professionals.

“When the opportunity came up for us to partner with the Science Center of Iowa, it was really a perfect marriage because it fulfills our mission of doing partnerships, having real-life, project-based educational opportunities for students, and it’s a perfect way to expose students to the larger role of STEM education,” said Tyler Wyngarden, TAI director of talent development.

Category: STEM in DSM


STEM in DSM: Local scientist wins NASA Mars challenge

STEM in DSM: Local scientist wins NASA Mars challenge

Pierre Blosse is celebrating a pretty big accomplishment: Last month, the Urbandale resident was one of three winners of NASA’s Journey to Mars Challenge, which invited the public to submit ideas for developing long-term residence on the Red Planet. But there won’t be any celebratory cake just yet — an achievement like this calls for a cosmic recipe, the kind that could sustain life on Mars.

That’s what Blosse is cooking up in his research. He’s using chlorella algae, a single-source microorganism, to develop an efficient, starch-rich flour that could provide a sustainable food source for future Mars colonists.

“I thought, ‘Why not use the starch in the algae to make food since it’s so much more efficient and grows faster?’” Blosse said. “I read a lot of research articles and literature about it. I was convinced it was actually a good idea, and it was a feasible idea, so I decided to write about it.”

Blosse, who works at DuPont Pioneer, submitted a technical paper on his findings, giving NASA a license to the idea.

Though the paper focused on chlorella’s Martian viability, he isn’t overlooking the algae’s potential on Earth, too.

“It ties in with agriculture, which is something I’m interested in,” Blosse said. “It’s important to feed the world, and this is just another way to do it.”

Blosse is working with researchers at Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm, where he’ll try to test and prove his idea is a viable option for feeding future Mars residents. He said he’s not counting on Mars One to make its much-hyped one-way trip to the Red Planet by the 2020 goal but expects Elon Musk’s SpaceX to visit Mars within his lifetime.

He hopes his chlorella concept eventually makes the six-month journey to Mars, too. Until then, Blosse will continue researching his recipe for long-term life on the Red Planet.

Curiosity is the key ingredient.

“For me, it’s really important to understand how things work,” he said. “I’m always trying to learn new things, not just for my job, but personally, too.”

Category: STEM in DSM


Campers explore genetics with Chubby the guinea pig

Campers explore genetics with Chubby the guinea pig

STEM learning can come from a variety of places. In this summer’s Vet Tech camps for third and fourth graders, it came from Chubby, a brown-and-white guinea pig who doubles as a cute, cuddly example of genetics in action.

“What do you think her parents might have looked like?” asked SCI Programs Coordinator Bridgett Harvey.

Using the guinea pig as an example, campers completed Punnett Squares for Chubby’s fur color, softness and more. In between exclamations of “Awwww!” and, “We love you, Chubby!” students explored phenotypes and genotypes, as well as proper pet care.

Harvey said Chubby exemplifies the hands-on experiences that are at the core of SCI Summer Camps.

“Chubby brings a real-life example of what campers are learning about with Punnett Squares in the Vet Tech camp,” she said. “They can see her different colors and fur types and relate those to dominant and recessive traits.”

In addition to helping teach genetics, the Vet Tech campers’ beloved pet also exemplifies real-life resilience.

Abandoned in a dumpster, Chubby was surrendered to a local Animal Rescue League for rehabilitation, where she was then adopted by Bridgett.

“Chubby has an incredible story and charming personality that campers love,” Harvey said. “She is also a good role model for responsibility with pet care, which is an important message to campers.”

Category: Camps


Iowa Makers collaborate to develop statewide innovation ecosystem

Iowa Makers collaborate to develop statewide innovation ecosystem

We ended our final Iowa Maker Tweet-Up of the summer on a sweet note… featuring cooking studios, die-cut chocolate, 3-D printed treats and more! Our final #iamakerchat of the season focused on Making in Iowa and how local Makers can collaborate to develop the state’s innovation ecosystem.

Here are a few of our favorite tweets from Tuesday’s conversation:

First, we brainstormed ways to invite new Makers to join the movement while supporting Iowa’s existing Maker community.

How can we show the world that everyone is a Maker? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

Programs like yours, and make sure we keep bringing people into the conversation from different backgrounds. #iamakerchat -@Area515DSM

How can Makers support Makers as we work to develop Iowa’s innovation ecosystem? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

SHARE. And then share some more. Go to a Maker Space or your library or a meetup or your existing clubs and SHARE. #iamakerchat -@Area515DSM

We brainstormed how Maker Faires can better serve the local Maker community and inspire new Makers.

What role do Maker Faires play in developing Maker culture/bringing it to pop culture? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

That whole “not connected” thing. That’s what they could be doing. Also, inspiring the young’uns. #iamakerchat -@Area515DSM

Then, high-tech cuisine came up…

How do we encourage Makers to collaborate on new ideas? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

We’d also like to have some like-minded neighbors. We can’t be the entire village, e.g., a cooking studio would be GREAT! #iamakerchat -@Area515DSM

Food art/cooking is a key part of Making, but it’s often left out of the discussion. How do we bring that to light? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

But those ties are happening! They’re just not as obvious as wearables, for instance. But hey, 3-D printed food! #iamakerchat -@Area515DSM

Finally, we said farewell to an inspiring summer of tweet-ups with this question:

How would you describe the Maker movement in one sentence (or two)? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

Making something will almost always involve learning something. Might be something different than you expected as well! #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

It’s about us reclaiming our confidence as producers and agents of change in our lives. (And making cool stuff.) #iamakerchat -@Area515DSM

Join us next summer!

Thanks for following along and joining in the Iowa Maker conversation! Stay tuned in June 2016 for another summer of #iamakerchat, featuring new topics, new technology and new ways to expand your Maker mindset!

Category: Make@SCI


Robots are high-tech toys with real-world applications

Robots are high-tech toys with real-world applications

Robo-snakes, robo-taxis, robo-hotels — last Tuesday’s Iowa Maker Tweet-Up featured all of the above and more in the spirit of our “Robots and Hacking” theme in the Makers Studio. We explored the future of robotics as a cool toy and technology with real-world applications. Here are a few highlights from our conversation:

First, we discussed our favorite futuristic robots… And how we can make them a little less freaky.

What’s the most exciting piece of robotics news you’ve heard in the past couple months? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

The robot hotel in Japan sounds really interesting - and creepy at the same time! -@MichaelELandon

We agree! A cool application of tech, for sure! Would you visit that hotel? -@SCIOWA

Not sure! The videos I’ve seen show the movements to be awkward - what I tried to avoid programming animatronics! #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

Naturally, we had to take a virtual tour of the “Henn’na Hotel” (it translates to “strange hotel” in Japanese, appropriately enough). Almost entirely staffed by robots, the hotel is high-tech but booking your stay is surprisingly cheap, as the robo-staff cuts labor costs by about 70 percent.

Need a ride to the robot hotel? Take one of Japan’s robot taxis.

Whether you’re building the ultimate robo-taxi or a DIY replica of R2-D2, robotics is all about problem-solving.  

What’s one lesson you’ve learned working with robotics/mechanics as a Maker? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

How to press bearings. SMT soldering. Controlling a stepper motor. How do you pick one? #iamakerchat -@Area515DSM

More as a user than a Maker, understanding robotics’ role in increased access made it not just a toy. #iamakerchat -@AAMers, American Alliance of Museums

Great point! How do you keep that concept in mind with every step of the Making process? #iamakerchat

Maybe by trying to see the world through others’ eyes; approaching #Making as a way to solve problems/create solutions. #iamakerchat -@AAMers

Next #iamakerchat: Join us Tuesday, August 11, from 7:00-8:00 pm for the final Iowa Maker Tweet-Up of the summer. We’ll discuss the upcoming Des Moines Mini Maker Faire, the future of Maker culture and more. Tweet #iamakerchat to join the conversation! 

Category: Make@SCI