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


Get to Know VP of Science Learning Renee Harmon

Get to Know VP of Science Learning Renee Harmon

By Taylor Soule

SCI: What drew you to the Science Center of Iowa?

Renee Harmon: I’ve long been a Greater Des Moines resident, and the Science Center of Iowa has been a pivotal part of my personal life. I remember as a child coming to the Science Center for my very first field trip, and my very first overnight experience was at the Science Center in the old facility. It made an impact on who I became. I am an educator at heart, and those experiences helped me develop my passion in science and science learning. 

SCI: Can you tell SCI visitors a little bit about your professional background?

RH: I’ve been in education for more than 20 years now. I started as a classroom teacher and have been in the classroom from birth through the middle school years in a variety of ways. I was a classroom teacher at the Downtown School, taught there for a significant amount of time and was the assistant principal there as well. Then, I took a path that led me to the Business Education Alliance, which is another nonprofit in our community focused on excellence in education. During that time, I was able to participate in delivering graduate classes through Drake University, as well as work with some other organizations on their work in education, including art as well as the Greater Des Moines Community Foundation. I’ve always been passionate about teaching and learning, and one of the things that’s most exciting to me as a teacher and a learner is the ability to make an impact in somebody’s life in a way you can’t predict. It’s an exciting experience to be a teacher and a learner during this time because what we know about teaching and learning is evolving as research continues.

SCI: What motivates you every day in your role as VP Science Learning?

RH: Education is absolutely in my blood, and what really motivates and guides me in life is just being able to make an impact — and in particular, an impact in the life of a child. I’m also a mom, so that is something that also guides me day to day. I have three amazing boys who love the Science Center, and that has also ignited a passion for me in the work that’s done here — seeing the Science Center through their eyes.

SCI: What’s a time you felt particularly in awe by the power of science?

RH: As a teacher, what inspires me about science has been seeing that children can be inspired to be creative and to think outside the box about how things work. When you are engaged with a child in an experiment or in research around science, they think creatively. They problem-solve and work collaboratively. One of my favorite things about being a teacher was allowing children to see that science isn’t about reading in a book or formulas — it’s about how you work together to solve problems, to really study through observation. That’s really powerful. And when you watch any child really think on a significant level about what they’re observing in their environment and think about how things react, it’s an amazing experience.

SCI: What’s been most challenging about your transition into the VP Science Learning role? 

RH: I think one of the most difficult things is to quickly gather knowledge about everything that’s happening here at the Science Center. What’s happening here is so plentiful that on a short-term basis, I’ve had the opportunity to see all the amazing things that are happening. So, getting a sense of all the work that we’re doing is amazing and again, inspiring.

SCI: What’s been the most rewarding aspect of your time at SCI so far?

RH: The most rewarding thing about working at the Science Center has been getting to know each of the individuals who work here and contribute to the mission of the Science Center of Iowa. Each person works very hard to contribute their passions and their talents to make things run here in a way that really serves our community. 

SCI: How do you hope to grow science learning at SCI?

RH: Of course, that is what I’m most excited about — looking at the core of work that we’re currently doing, evaluating how we’re servicing our community and designing and planning programs, experiences and opportunities for the entire community to get engaged with the Science Center.

SCI: Which SCI exhibit is your favorite and why?

RH: Currently, Making — the new Makers Studio because every day since the opening of the exhibit, I see children with lights flashing on their faces. They’re excited, and they’re getting to share with the Makers about what they’ve created, and they’re getting honored for their creation. They’re able to make connections in a way that I am able to see, with a huge amount of excitement. It’s delightful to walk through the exhibit and see that. It’s amazing to see and hear all those conversations surrounding the movement of Making. It’s amazing.

SCI: How does SCI’s mission to engage and inspire Iowans along their journey of lifelong science learning resonate with you?

RH: Because I’m a mom and an educator, I think on a practical level about all the great things that we do with our student population and for our families. But it really is bigger than that. It’s about reaching our entire community and seeing how science can come alive to them. To me, it’s about building connections within our community and a foundation of understanding about the importance of science in our lives. It’s inspiring.  

Category: General SCI


More Than Just a Weekly Visit

More Than Just a Weekly Visit

By: April Keller, SCI Member

If you met my son two years ago, you might be amazed at the kid he is today. I originally wanted to write this post from my perspective — what I personally love about SCI, and everything I tried to put on paper came back to his personal journey. This place helped teach him how to embrace the world.

I have shared with the Science Center of Iowa just how great we think the place is, but it goes deeper than that. What he learns there he brings home, carries to school, uses as an ice breaker and astounds his friends.

But most of all, it has given him a voice.

When my son was 3 years old, we noticed he had communication hurdles to overcome. He had problems speaking to other people, specifically problems asking and answering questions. It was frustrating to him, and his behavior reflected that frustration. Therapy was helping, and we started working with him on behavior goals. If his behavior is top-notch all week, he gets to go wherever he likes as a reward. One week we took a trip to SCI, and that is the place he has picked every week since as his reward. In two years, I can only recall two times he has ever fallen short of his reward. It means that much to him.

I let him lead the way when we go. We started in Small Discoveries, rarely venturing anywhere else. Instead of shying away from others, he piled fruit on a conveyor belt and connected with other children. He was part of a common goal and even though he didn’t say much, he became an integral part of the action. He couldn’t help but go there and ask questions, slowly at first, and then more and more flooded through. Every visit, he focused on something new.

However, it was when he started interacting with the staff that I noticed a gigantic difference. There are opportunities for people to ask questions after the daily programs. One day, he mustered up the courage to ask a question. I could tell right away — when the presenter answered his question that very first time — it was like a rock star calling a random child out of the audience to play the big guitar solo on stage.

And he just ate it up.

The weeks that have followed became, in part, dedicated to asking more questions — but also for making sure he was doing the same at school. He would ponder the answers and point out what he learned in his books at home and in school, describing them in as much detail as he could remember. When we would go back the next week, he’d investigate the different areas and apply things he learned from the previous visit. Because science is so much a part of everything, it was accessible to him and he was excited about learning the answers, talking about his discoveries and asking more questions.

In these past two years, he’s learned how a hovercraft works (and rode on one). He came face-to-face with a T-Rex, a shark, the midnight zone of the ocean, a bolt of lightning and countless explosions. He can identify the metal salt that turns a firework green. He can identify most of the animals in What on Earth?, name all the planets in Why the Sky? and can give you a brief synopsis of every clip in the Cosmic Jukebox.

He often speculates about what is on the other side of a black hole and if there are other universes. None of this happened overnight. It has taken two years of careful investigation and loads of questions.

So, what’s he like today? Animated. Outgoing. Enthusiastic. He is now the one who shows other children how to put fruit on that conveyor belt. But will he grow up to be a scientist because of the time we spend at SCI? Will he someday be just like his favorite scientists he sees every week? Only time will tell. But what I do know? He’s gotten pretty good at questioning everything and looking for answers — and I think that’s a pretty good start.

April has been an SCI member since 2012. She loves discussing which superpower would be the coolest, stockpiling vintage books and napping; not necessarily in that order.

Category: General SCI


Entomologist Receives Inaugural SCI Girls in Science Scientist of the Year Award

Entomologist Receives Inaugural SCI Girls in Science Scientist of the Year Award

At last night's Girls in Science Launch Party, we unveiled a new award: the SCI Girls in Science Scientist of the Year Award!

This new award recognizes a local scientist who best exemplifies the Girls in Science Initiative's goal to empower and equip girls in science, technology, engineering and math with involvement in SCI's programs as well as participation in other programs throughout the community.

The inaugural winner of the award is Laura Higgins, Ph.D.

Dr. Higgins is Research Director at DuPont Pioneer and a Board Certified Entomologist. She is an active SCI volunteer and has been specially-trained through SCI's Portal to the Public program in best practices for communicating current science to visitors. After participating in many Girls in Science programs and events over the past few years, Higgins joined the SCI Board of Directors in January 2014.

Higgins also embodies the spirit of SCI's Girls in Science Initiative throughout the community as a Girl Scout leader, a student mentor for "Science Bound" at Roosevelt High School, a member of the Grand View University Biology Advisory Committee, a presenter at "Taking the Road Less Traveled" sponsored by Iowa State University's Program for Women in Science and Engineering and a regular participant in area science fairs for Des Moines Public Schools.

Learn more about SCI's Girls in Science Initiative at

Category: General SCI


Portal scientist and SCI volunteer joins Board of Directors

Laura Higgins, Ph.D. Research Director for Insect Trait Development at DuPont Pioneer

Laura Higgins, Ph.D. Research Director for Insect Trait Development at DuPont Pioneer

When Laura Higgins joined the SCI Board of Directors in March, it was merely an extension of her ongoing efforts to support the organization.

She brought with her a very special ally: T-Bone, the Madagascar hissing cockroach. Both Laura and T-Bone remain active in a variety of SCI events, including Girls in Science, $5 Family Nights, Portal to the Public and Café Scientifique.

"I have loved SCI for a long time," Higgins said. "It's very accessible and provides a fantastic focal point for science education and knowledge for all age groups." In her profession as an entomologist, Higgins said she often talks to people who fear insects. "SCI gives me an opportunity to cultivate an interest in insects before the fear kicks in."

"I have a responsibility as a scientist to cultivate interest and teach people how to find answers. People deal with scientific topics every day, and they often fear what they don't understand. I help people appreciate their surroundings and find a comfort level with things that previously have been confusing or hard."

Higgins finds the Girls in Science education and programming offered by SCI vital. "Many girls fall out of interest with math and science early in life. We need a format to encourage them to stay interested, and Girls in Science gives us that opportunity. I tell those girls to find something they are passionate about, talk to as many people as they can about it and learn from people who share their passion. Success finds people who are passionate about what they do."

Category: General SCI


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