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


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


Making in the Metro: Ceramics is a language of creativity for local artist

Making in the Metro: Ceramics is a language of creativity for local artist

Art lived exclusively in books for Amanda Barr, as she studied Spanish literature. She explored Spanish theatre, fashion, pottery and more en route to a master’s degree but felt trapped in the classroom setting. Then, Barr realized she needed to work with her hands. She needed to Make things.

Today, Barr’s study of Spanish art and culture lives not in pages of books but in folds of clay, each custom ceramic piece part of her lifelong language of creativity and innovation. For Barr, Making is about more than the finished product. It’s about the lifelong process of scientific inquiry.

“I think it’s an essential part of art, being able to communicate beyond, ‘Look at what I did,’ but how I got there and the mental process behind it,” Barr said. “This is what I was thinking about. This is not just, ‘I made something pretty.’”

Barr launched her business, Amanda M Barr Ceramics, after taking a pottery class to occupy her days while she taught night classes at DMACC. Her hobby led to exhibitor space at the Des Moines Arts Festival, among other shows.

Aesthetics and analytics unite every day in Barr’s ceramics studio, where she creates, paints and glazes custom plates, bowls, mugs and more. Each finished piece is a feat of chemistry, math and physics.

When she mixes the glaze, she’s a chemist. When she molds the clay, she’s a mathematician. When she forms a strong, sturdy base, she’s a physicist. It all adds up to creativity.

“If you don’t have that creative function of the brain, how are you going to build, say, a better refrigerator or solve a problem on the space shuttle?” Barr said. “Creativity is problem-solving.”

For the language teacher turned artist, the final step in the Making process is, of course, writing about it. Barr maintains a blog and cites the importance of communicating the Maker mindset in words and work, whether she’s speaking Spanish or English.

“Writing is taking what you’ve made and telling people in words what you’ve just told them in object,” she said.

Category: Make@SCI


Sustainability is part of the innovation process for Makers, museums

Sustainability is part of the innovation process for Makers, museums

We explored sustainability solutions in museums, art and more at Tuesday’s Iowa Maker Tweet-Up, featuring all things green and eco-friendly in the innovation business. Here are a few highlights from the conversation:

First, we discussed nature’s important role as inspiration for Makers.

How do you incorporate nature/natural elements in your work as a Maker? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

The weather is a big influence on my work. Especially clouds. Also lots of plants and wildlife. Imagery. -@amandambarr, Amanda Barr, ceramics artist

We geeked out over unexpected eco-friendly features.

What’s the coolest sustainable Making project you’ve ever seen? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

Solar powered kilns! -@amandambarr

Naturally, sustainability practices in museums entered the conversation.

What are some ways you've seen museums work to build more sustainable infrastructures? #iamakerchat -SCIOWA

Solar panels, roof gardens come to mind. And building w/ found/recycled materials, using eco-friendly paints/finishes. #iamakerchat -@AAMers, American Alliance of Museums

Next #iamakerchat: Join us Tuesday, July 15, from 7:00-8:00 pm for a lively discussion on robotics and mechanics. Tweet #iamakerchat to join the conversation! 

Category: Make@SCI


Art informs Making process at every stage

Art informs Making process at every stage

Making encompasses everything from color-changing chemistry experiments to woodcarving to comics, and at our June 30 #iamakerchat, we highlighted the “A” in STEAM. Artistry in Making is about more than eye-catching projects — it’s about creating a positive user experience through visual elements that are equally beautiful and functional.

Educators, electronics enthusiasts, artists, gamers and more weighed in on the intersection of art and Making. Here are a few of our favorite tweets:

First, we explored the myriad applications of art in Making.

What does “STEAM” mean to you? -@SCIOWA

STEAM = PC video games #iamakerchat -@Fatman22, Eric Menke

So many interesting intersections of art/tech in making. Re-use of found/scrap materials into art, for example. #iamakerchat -@AAMers, American Alliance of Museums

How do art and technology intersect in Making?

Art comes up with the idea, technology makes it possible. So many things that were science fiction have become reality. #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

Art informs the Making process at every stage.

What role does art/artistic thinking play in your work as a Maker? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

From experience – function is not enough. Taking time to look good is perceived as taking time to make it work right. #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

When you’re starting a project, do you think about the technical functions before the aesthetic elements or simultaneously? #iamakerchat -@SCIOWA

I start with the functionality and then tweak it to look the best that it can. Sometimes it means backtracking a bit! #iamakerchat -@MichaelELandon

We learned that backtracking, problem-solving and laughter are important learning tools.

Making is all about being curious and inquisitive! How do you communicate to students that it’s OK to #MakeMistakes? #iamakerchat

As a teacher, I make and celebrate my mistakes with humor and humility and embrace students who show me they have different thinking -@tcgrn

Next #iamakerchat: Join us on Tuesday, July 14, from 7:00-8:00 pm for a fun, fast-paced discussion pf the intersection of nature and Making. Tweet #iamakerchat to join the conversation!

Category: Make@SCI