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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Abroad experiences provide perspective for improving public health in Iowa

Abroad experiences provide perspective for improving public health in Iowa

Marcus Barlow vividly remembers his first science experience: second-grade pig-eye dissection. Barlow marveled at the eye’s sensory power despite its small size. That moment, he realized science isn’t limited to the laboratory — it’s the guiding force in our everyday lives.

A second-grade anatomy lesson led Barlow to question everything and explore the science of his world. Volunteer experiences in Africa further strengthened his inquisitive spirit and ultimately led to a career in public health.

Though he now works as program coordinator at Integrated Health Homes at Child Health Specialty Clinics, Barlow hasn’t forgotten that formative experience at the second-grade anatomy table. Every day, he applies that same curiosity in tackling the complicated, nuanced problems facing Iowa’s public health systems.

SCI: What drew you to science growing up?

MB: My first science experience was in second grade. I can remember dissecting pig eyes, actually. I remember being captivated by the small number of parts that make up the eye and their ability to create the images we see. That was the first time I got excited about looking at things with a scientific lens and trying to understand what was happening around me.

I took more and more science classes all the way up into high school, where I can remember anatomy, again. We were dissecting cats, and in chemistry, we were taking the copper off of pennies. I learned to dig a little deeper and not just take things at the surface level. I began to ask questions, like why we can stop our car at the stoplight or why we burp and why we have hiccups. That created an idea in my head that I wanted to do something in science. I wasn’t quite sure what. On top of that, I really enjoy the social sciences as well. I enjoy people. I enjoy interacting with people. I wanted the merger of both of those things, which got me into the health sciences eventually.

SCI: Was there a specific moment you realized public health was the right field for you?

MB: It was definitely not my focus during my undergraduate studies. I didn’t know that there was a master’s of public health at all. I eventually went to study abroad in Africa for the first time, and it was in Tanzania for six months. While I was there, I was volunteering for a non-governmental organization called Guidance and Health-Based Care. I saw there were a lot of systematic problems. The Tanzanian government provides medications for people to get well, called anti-retroviral medication. But on the flipside of that, these people didn’t have enough food, and when you don’t have that food in your system, the medicine can’t do its job. So, it’s actually hurting people instead of helping them get better. There were large systematic problems in that society that created the negative health outcome.

Another experience that I had was in Downtown Denver when I volunteered for homeless youth with AmeriCorps. I saw there were a lot of problems with drug abuse, drug paraphernalia and different factors that were making the youth, first off, feel uncomfortable getting the help they needed, but also feel ashamed and criminalized because of their addictions and other problems they were facing. It really came down to the fact that they just had a terrible start to their lives that snowballed into a larger, negative health problems. Those two items kind of got me thinking, “I need to go back and take a look at these larger systems that we have in the world and why we’re seeing really bad health outcomes because of them.”

SCI: Can you describe your work as program coordinator at Integrated Health Homes at Child Health Specialty Clinics?

MB: I work on Pella Health programs, and I also work on another program that’s called the Child and Youth Health Psychiatric Consultation of Iowa. It consults with primary care physicians to provide mental healthcare. We’re making sure primary care providers are able to diagnose mental health conditions in the state of Iowa. One in five children has mental health issues in the state of Iowa, and that statistic is the same nationally. We have numerous shortages and issues in child psychiatry. We want to keep people in their homes, we want to keep them where they’re at with their primary care physicians. That is kind of what I discussed earlier with the systematic, big problems that I saw in my travels. There are really big issues here in Iowa, too. We have a lot of systems that are becoming a problem. They’re creating some hard health outcomes.

SCI: What’s one challenging aspect of working in public health?

MB: Tom Harkin has said several times that, “Public health’s greatest enemy is that when it works, you don’t hear about it.” For instance, when we don’t have a measles outbreak like we’re seeing in Germany and Florida, public health is working, but no one knows it. That is the biggest enemy of public health.  

SCI: What’s the most rewarding thing about working in public health?

MB: I think a lot of times, people seek jobs or opportunities that when you go home at the end of the day, you feel like, “You know what, today I feel like I made a difference in the world,” and I know that sounds really cliché and corny, but I really feel that way because you can see it in patient outcomes and data. For instance, I know if I am doing my job and I am making sure that everything is coordinated in the Pella Health program, I can know a child out there in Mason City or Storm Lake got the services they needed to improve their health and their lives. That’s really rewarding when you hear things like that — when you can see patients are getting the things they need. Health is so all-encompassing on quality of life.

Category: General SCI


Meet nutrition specialist Bailey Pudenz

Meet nutrition specialist Bailey Pudenz

When Bailey Pudenz attended freshman orientation at Iowa State University, she signed up to be a fashion merchandising and apparel major. With one glance at the course list, though, she felt anxious and inexperienced. Pudenz found comfort in an unexpected keyword: chemistry.

On the list of courses for the food science major? Organic chemistry, biochemistry, food chemistry and more. Pudenz traded her fashion major for a food science degree, which led her to Eurofins Scientific, an international group of contract laboratories.

Pudenz’s passion for science isn’t limited to the laboratory. She participates in SCI’s Girls in Science Initiative and presented at our 2014 Coffee & Careers event.

SCI: What drew you to science growing up?

BP: Science was always one of my favorite classes growing up, so it was something I always looked forward to in school. It carried through to college, and then I went into food science. That’s my degree. It blossomed from there. My mom has Celiac disease, so she can’t eat gluten. When I started college, that was when Celiac disease was getting more of a spotlight and people were finding out what it was. The gluten-free industry was getting really big. With a food science degree, you can do research and development and develop products for people who couldn’t normally eat foods like that. I always enjoyed science growing up, and with my mom having celiac disease, it gave me an outlet to go into. Plus, I’ve always loved food, I mean, who doesn’t love food?

SCI: Was there a specific moment you realized food science was the right field for you?

BP: When I first started at Iowa State, I wasn’t a science major. At orientation, I had signed up to be a fashion merchandising and apparel major, but I started looking at the courses I was going to take, and they were things I didn’t have any experience in, and it made me a little bit nervous. I spoke with my advisor at the time, and I really wanted to stay in the College of Human Sciences, and I fell upon food science. With my mom having celiac disease and always being interested in food and cooking and science growing up, it was a perfect fit. When I saw the list of courses for the four years, the classes made a lot more sense to me. I was much more comfortable. It’s kind of funny that seeing chemistry and organic chemistry and biochemistry and food chemistry makes you more comfortable than something else.

SCI: What’s the most rewarding aspect of working with nutrition for you?

BP: I really enjoy using the major and the degree that I worked for. I really enjoy the job I have now because I get to continue to learn. I learn something new every day with the regulations I read and all the changes happening. What’s really rewarding for me is learning all of this, comprehending it, understanding it and then being able to work with our clients and helping them achieve their goals with the knowledge I’ve gained.

SCI: What’s the most challenging aspect of working with nutrition?

BP: The same reasons that I love the job are the same reasons it sometimes frustrates me. Reading regulations isn’t the most exciting thing in the world, and they are sometimes hard to follow. They have very long sentences, which often refer back to another section, so you’re reading along, and it makes a reference that’s like two sentences long, and you have to say to yourself, “OK, I don’t need that information,” so I have to block it out and continue to read. I think one of the most difficult things is reading the regulations and comprehending them. As I’ve learned more of what to look for and how to read them, they start to make more sense.

SCI: What motivates you to continue participating in Girls in Science events at SCI?

BP: It’s such a fun experience every single time. It’s fun talking to girls and sharing my experiences and the challenges or triumphs I’ve had and that it can be difficult at times. At the same time, if you love to learn and love to keep growing, science can definitely provide that to you. It’s fun to watch them interact with everyone who participates and discover what their options are for when they grow up and enter the working world.

SCI: Is there a particular piece of advice you like to offer at Girls in Science events?

BP: Science isn’t the easiest thing for me, and that is something I always explain when I had my Coffee and Careers talk. Science isn’t necessarily easy for me to do. It challenges me every day, and I honestly don’t get everything, so you have to look to your peers and your mentors. I think showing them that it doesn’t have to be easy to enjoy it, and it’s fun to have a challenge associated with it. You can do it. You can make it through. You can learn it. When it clicks, that’s the best part of it. It’s fun relaying that to them.

Category: General SCI


Make Spooky Science Part of Your Halloween Party

Make Spooky Science Part of Your Halloween Party

Caramel apples? Check. Steaming cider? Check. The ultimate Halloween costume? Check.

But something is missing — science! Here are some ways you can add fizzing Jack-o-Lanterns, friendly STEM competition and apple architecture to your Halloween party.

Fizzing Jack-o-Lanterns — Whether your pumpkin features a devious grin or a warm smile, take your Jack-o-Lantern to a new level with the classic baking-soda-and-vinegar reaction. After you carve your masterpiece, add a dash of baking soda, a drop of food coloring, pour in the vinegar and watch your Halloween friend fizz!

LEGO STEM Challenge — Trade apple-bobbing for a new kind of competition, Halloween LEGO style! Give each team an array of LEGOs, and challenge them to build their favorite Halloween characters — ghosts, ghouls, monsters and more.

Apple Architecture — Grab a big bowl of apple bites and toothpicks, and challenge your guests to build a sweet fall structure! Reward your architects with the ingredients for caramel apple bites, and let them create customized treats.

Candy Corn Catapults — Gather a few simple ingredients for this Halloween physics challenge. Have your party guests team up to build catapults with Popsicle sticks, rubber bands, spoons and tape. Then, see who can launch candy corn the farthest!

Balloon Ghost — Grab a black permanent marker and draw a pair of circle eyes on a white balloon. Pour baking soda and vinegar in an empty water bottle, secure the balloon on the opening and watch as a spooky ghost appears!

Category: General SCI


Pajama Party Makes Science Fun for Girls

Pajama Party Makes Science Fun for Girls

Nearly 200 girls participated in a late-night adventure at SCI on September 20. Though there were no pillows and it wasn’t quite a sleepover, they did don their PJs for a chance to participate in SCI’s 2nd Annual Girls in Science Pajama Party.

The girls, ages 8 to 15, arrived at SCI eager for the chance to learn how science could be a part of their future. Another important goal for SCI was to give these girls a community to support and encourage their interest in science.

Many parents hoped that the event would help spark an interest in science for their daughters. One said, “I hope she has fun, makes connections, is encouraged by likeminded peers and is more excited about figuring things out and making a career of it!”

To get the creativity flowing, the night began with some dancing and getting-to-know-you games. Then, the party moved to the six-story IMAX theater for a screening of Island of Lemurs: Madagascar, which features Dr. Patricia Wright, an accomplished primatologist, anthropologist and conservationist… and a great female role model.

According to post-event surveys, though, the best part of the night was the workshops, when the girls got to test and experiment in small group challenges.

In the “Parachute Plunge” workshop, groups were challenged to design a parachute that would slow an object’s fall from SCI’s second floor. The girls were encouraged to test their hypotheses and experiment with different designs. Then, they went to the test site and let their parachutes fly!

In the “Stop-Motion Dinos” workshop, groups used plastic dinosaur models and environmental props to create a short stop-motion animation film. Once each group developed a plot and storyline, they used an iPad app to direct and photograph their story.

Finally, the Pajama Party concluded with the chance to wish upon a star… a star that they viewed through high-powered telescopes! It was the first experience with a telescope for many of the girls, and many were surprised at the detail of celestial objects like the moon and Mars.

At the end of the night, 89 percent of the girls who completed a survey said they either had “Fun” or “So Much Fun!,” 32 percent said they “Learned a Lot” and 59 percent said they were “More Excited” about science as a result of the Pajama Party.

Thanks to the support of Presenting Sponsor DuPont Pioneer, the Girls in Science Pajama Party was made available to girls for a cost of just $5 per person.Learn more about SCI’s Girls in Science Initiative at

Category: General SCI


Trial Membership: Offer ends September 30!

Trial Membership: Offer ends September 30!

From dinosaurs to sleigh bells… SCI's upcoming events calendar is packed with fun things to do!

Now is the perfect time to try an SCI membership... for just $30!

Learn more


Here's the deal: Purchase a trial membership (Family Membership is just $30), and receive all of the benefits of membership through the end of the year.

You will receive free or discounted admission for your whole family on these events and more:

  • October 10 - April 12: Ultimate Dinosaurs, SCI's latest traveling exhibition featuring 12 new and exotic dinosaurs
  • October 10: $5 Family Night AND Member Family Workshop
  • October 23: Solar Eclipse Event
  • October 25: Spooky Science
  • November 7: Mixology Night (21+)
  • November 7:Interstellar opens in IMAX
  • November 14: $5 Family Night AND Member Family Workshop
  • November 29: Spirit of the Season Kick-Off Party
  • November 29: The Polar Express opens in IMAX
  • December 5: Mixology Night (21+)
  • December 12: $5 Family Night AND Member Family Workshop
  • December 13 and 14: Breakfast with Santa
  • December 31: Noon Year's Eve

Don’t wait – this offer is only good through September 30. Visit to get your trial membership today!

For more information, contact SCI Membership Manager Megan Pline at or 515-4274-6868 ext. 327.

Category: General SCI