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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R2-D2 inventor relies on Maker community

Jason Cross' daughter smiles with the R2-D2 replica he'll exhibit at the first-ever Des Moines Mini Maker Faire.

Jason Cross' daughter smiles with the R2-D2 replica he'll exhibit at the first-ever Des Moines Mini Maker Faire.

By Taylor Soule

When Jason Cross received the first issue of “Make” magazine in 2005, he felt an instant connection to the content and mission. But years would pass before he turned that Making intrigue into… well, R2-D2.

Last year, Cross began building a full-scale replica of the beloved “Star Wars” robot.

“I hadn’t really fiddled with anything until I started last year, but I’ve been a Maker fan,” Cross said.

His journey from fan to Maker peaks at the inaugural Des Moines Mini Maker Faire on Monday, September 1, at the Science Center of Iowa, where Cross will exhibit R2-D2.

In the world of mass-produced everything, Cross cites a growing sense of DIY pride in the Making movement’s recent popularity.

“I think we seem to be moving toward this artisanal movement in a way where people are moving away from mass-produced,” Cross said. “It’s still there, but there seems to be more pride in people learning how to do things themselves.”

Thanks to how-to videos and online sharing, the Maker community has expanded from basements and garages to encompass a global network of innovators.

“Now, you can watch YouTube videos and communicate more readily,” Cross said. “You can communicate with a small group of people in your community or people around the world to figure out how to do things.”

When people hear about Cross’ R2-D2 contribution to the Making movement, they often react with surprise.

“Some are a little incredulous like, ‘Really?’” he said.

He’s quick to mention that Makers are a community. If Cross has questions or needs a part for R2-D2, he can count on a network of fellow Makers and “Star Wars” enthusiasts. Though they’re all building replicas of the same robot, Cross said Makers value inventor and project diversity. 

“They often ask, ‘Do you have a kit?’ or, ‘How are you doing it?’ and it goes back to, ‘There’s not really a kit, but there’s a group of people who make them,’” Cross said. “People who help each other to figure out how to do it their own way.”


Category: Make@SCI


Des Moines Mini Maker Faire showcases Iowans’ creativity

Des Moines Mini Maker Faire showcases Iowans’ creativity

It’s the Greatest Show (and Tell) on Earth. It’s a family-friendly showcase of invention. It’s part science fair, part county fair, part something entirely new. It’s the inaugural Des Moines Mini Maker Faire!

What’s in store for you on Monday, September 1, at the Science Center of Iowa? A whole lot of showing and telling, courtesy of inventors and makers from across the state!

As you wander the exhibitor booths, tinker in the LEGO area, witness the zinging lights of a Star Theater laser show and experiment in STEM workshops, we encourage you to wonder, “Why?”

The Faire will feature a wide variety of Iowans dedicated to advancing the state’s rich STEM culture. 



  • HiFi Speakers: Experience the highest quality sound!
  • R2-D2: Yeah, you read that right — the beloved “Star Wars” character will make an appearance at the Des Moines Mini Maker Faire. The robot boasts high-tech engineering, with RC control and Arduino automation.
  • FRC Team 4646 ASAP: This Des Moines-based robotics team unites 15 high school students and seven mentors to design and build a robot to compete in the FIRST Robotics Competition.
  • Iowa LEGO Users Group: The Iowa LUG will present interactive LEGO activities for Maker Faire attendees, including LEGO Marble Mazes and LEGO/Duplo construction.
  • Balloon Geodesic Dome: This exhibit needs your help! Attendees will inflate and attach 165 balloons throughout the day to build a geodesic dome reaching five feet in height and 10 feet in diameter.
  • CoderDojo: In today’s tech-savvy world, coding is an ever-expanding industry. CoderDojo will present information about its coding education programs.
  • Forward Learning Experience: Industrial engineering encompasses a wide variety of exciting, cutting-edge work. Industrial design graduate students will teach attendees about the growing fields of CNC programming, computer-aided drafting, 3D scanning, 3D printing and more!  
  • Jewels Academy-Young Emerging Scientists: Fashion and 3D design unite in this exhibit. The Jewels Academy will teach girls how to design in 3D (and create custom tote bags for their tech projects).  
  • Drop Spinning: This exhibit has only two requirements: fingers and fiber (and creativity, of course). A drop-spinning expert will demonstrate how to twist fibers, plastic and more into yarn or cord.
  • Dream: Space telescopes aren’t the only way to capture atmospheric art. This exhibit uses simple materials like spray paint to create vivid representations of the universe.
  • Safety Cane: This fiber-optic cane is visible from over a mile away, improving user safety.
  • Beer Crazy: Iowa has an ever-growing DIY industry, and Beer Crazy will showcase its contributions at the Des Moines Mini Maker Faire.
  • Electric Vehicle Conversions: These three electric cars don’t emit any fumes, benefiting the environment.
  • The Canine Cabana: Invented by 14-year-old Marc Trepanier, this patent-pending pet shelter can be assembled in a snap — no tools, nails, nuts or bolts needed!
  • DICE FTC: Techies, don’t miss this exhibitor! The DICE FTC team will exhibit computers, a competition-ready robot and a 3D printer.
  • Sports Car Club of America (Des Moines Valley Region): Experience the scientific side of racing with this outdoor exhibitor. The DMVR SCCA will present DIY racing projects and a photo gallery of the racecar-building process!
  • Portrait Studio: Watch as an artist draws you, and try your hand at drawing someone else’s portrait.
  • Traveling TARDIS: Calling all Whovians! Step inside a hand-crafted replica of the “Dr. Who” trademark police phone box.
  • Iowa Brewers Union: Always wanted to brew your own beer but weren’t sure where to start? Visit the Iowa Brewers Union exhibitor booth for tips and information on the brewing process.
  • Elevate Iowa: An Iowa campaign to promote careers and educational pathways in advanced manufacturing. Representatives from Vermeer will join with a small virtual reality welding simulator, American Welding Society comic books and careers in welding booklets. Learn more at
  • Iowa State University Virtual Reality Program: The cutting-edge program will bring a 16-foot trailer packed with high-tech gear, including a 3D printer, augmented reality activities, Oculus Rift goggles and a virtual reality module.


  • Britches & Hose Ukulele Club: Britches & Hose Ukulele Club is about more than breezy island tunes. The group, which performs exclusively with voice and ukuleles, will perform a set that spans pop to folk to arena rock.
  • Scientists in Comics: This acrylic artist specializes in comic book characters.

Workshops (free with admission):

  • Area 515 will lead MaKey MaKey workshops, where attendees can turn almost anything — bananas, Play-Doh, high-fives and more — into a piano key!
  • The Des Moines Art Center will help attendees transform trash into treasure in this innovative workshop.
  • At the "Roach Motel: Make-a-Zine" make-and-take booth, Faire attendees will gain inspiration from a variety of zines on display. Zines from the Roach Motel Zine Distro will be pre-printed and provided free of charge to attendees to bind and take. Roach Motel owner and Craft Leftovers writer Kristin Roach will provide hands-on instructions for all three zine-binding techniques: stapler saddle stitched, waxed floss saddle stitched and single-page slit fold.
  • Create a slim, versatile case for your iPad or other tablet device using bookbinding materials and rare-Earth magnets. The end result is a book-like case that protects your tablet when closed but provides a wide range of holding/viewing positions.
  • Blow your own glass ornaments under the guidance of artist Rachel Sims! She will teach Faire attendees how to create unique glass art with a torch.

Food and Beverage Area:

Taste the food-truck flair of Des Moines staple "Melts without Borders" and sip on Iowa craft beer at the Maker Faire Food and Beverage Area. As you enjoy Iowa flavors and brews, tap your feet to local bands.


The Des Moines Mini Maker Faire is free with general admission and free for SCI Members. Buy your ticket today!

Category: Make@SCI


Young inventor hopes to inspire others to join Making movement

Young inventor hopes to inspire others to join Making movement

By Taylor Soule

Marc Trepanier is eager to share his Canine Cabana invention at the Des Moines Mini Maker Faire on Monday, September 1, but he’s more interested in sharing something else: the magic — and accessibility — of Making.

The 14-year-old inventor subscribes to “Make” magazine and had long hoped to attend a Maker Faire. When he heard about the first-ever Des Moines Mini Maker Faire at the Science Center of Iowa, three words immediately crossed his mind.

“When I realized there was one right here in Des Moines, I said, ‘Why not register?’” Trepanier said.

While the Maker Faire provides an innovative, cutting-edge environment to exhibit the Canine Cabana, Trepanier hopes his invention serves more than dogs — he hopes it inspires new Makers to join the nationwide movement of creativity and resourcefulness.  

“If you show what you can do, they’ll realize, ‘Hey, I can do that. Maybe this isn’t so hard. If I just think about it a little bit, maybe I’ll be able to do it,’” Trepanier said. “People decide to get a subscription to the magazine, decide to go to a Maker Faire, decide to participate in that Maker Faire, and it just continues from there. That’s where it all starts.”


Category: Make@SCI


Action-Reaction: Insight Into Moviemaking

Action-Reaction: Insight Into Moviemaking

By: Gavin Warnock, SCI Maker-in-Residence

Here at the Science Center of Iowa, we recently hosted two workshops on stop-motion animation. We made one movie during our drop-in workshop for teens and another with the family night cohort.

In both settings, we had a fantastic time, and I know this is something I would love to do again with any group I am a part of. Now that we are able to share our products with every one of you visiting SCI’s blog (see below for links), I would like to explore how this type of media works.

All About Animation

First, I would like to talk about animation. graciously provided the definition of animation as "a way of making a movie by using a series of drawings, computer graphics or photographs of objects (such as puppets or models) that are slightly different from one another and that, when viewed quickly one after another, create the appearance of movement."

That’s a long definition, but a straightforward idea: We move something little by little to make it appear to be moving.

Now, how does this work? Why can we not tell a quality animation is a series of images?

A common misconception about animation is that "persistence of vision" is the whole story. Simply put, persistence of vision comes about because our eyes work by taking a bunch of pictures and blurring them together. This is why, if you hold your hand or a pencil in front of your face and wave it about quickly, it will look like you have two of the object you are waving.

This is not the secret of animation! Persistence of vision is, however, the reason we do not see the black spaces in between images on a film strip during a movie (Like a film at the Blank IMAX Dome Theater)!

The real secret to animation is referred to as the phi phenomenon. As unsatisfying as it may be, the phi phenomenon is described as the phenomenon where one perceives movement when shown objects in rapid succession. So, if you have a circle of lights turned off, and someone is flashing them on one at a time in order at the correct rate, it will appear as though one light is moving in a circle. A great .gif example similar to the one I just described can be seen here.

Creating a Stop-Motion Film

On to the creation!

To make our animation, we used a process as simple as we could for a greater chance that everyone might have access to the tools we used. We started with modeling clay. We used this clay and some other craft supplies to create characters and sets.

After we had a storyline, characters and a set, we were ready to start filming. We used a variety of cameras and took pictures as we moved our characters slightly with each image.

After we were done working, we inserted the images to a PowerPoint presentation (Yes, PowerPoint!) and changed the transition time between slides to be automatic after .04 seconds to meet the industry standard 24 frames per second. Finally, we experimented with this transition time until our videos came to life!

The Finished Product

Before you go out and create your own stop-motion animation, take a look at some of the films we've created this summer during Make@SCI!

This first one is from the drop-in Wednesday Workshop on July 16:

The rest are from the Member Family Workshops on July 11:

Category: Make@SCI


Makers in the Community: Jerry Miner

Makers in the Community: Jerry Miner

By Taylor Soule

A drill the diameter of a single hair — no, it isn’t fodder for a science-fiction novel. For Jerry Miner, a CNC programmer at Accumold in Ankeny, it’s an everyday tool.

The 22-year-old provides high-tech software with directions to build complicated microstructures for multiple industries, including aeronautics and medicine. Miner creates tiny structures at Accumold, but they make a big impact.

The company builds miniscule parts for medical procedures. Knowing his work may eventually improve a patient’s health motivates Miner every step of the way. 

“Some of the parts we make here can help save a life, so it’s kind of neat knowing you’re helping somebody out down the road,” Miner said.

He grew up admiring his father’s blacksmithing talent and turned the family farm into a Makers Studio [link to Make@SCI page] of his own. Along with his brother, Miner disassembled multiple tractors and mix-and-matched parts to create a bigger, fancier model.      

That tinkering habit led Miner to high school shop classes and eventually, to an Accumold scholarship and an associate’s degree in tool- and die-making from Des Moines Area Community College.

“In those shop classes, I tried new things and learned a lot,” Miner said. “Now, I’m in an industry that’s growing. There’s always going to be a demand for a skilled, hard-working individual. Being a maker suits me.”

Today, Miner makes on a much different scale than he did in high school. 

With tiny equipment and often-tinier parts, precision is critical in his work at Accumold. Miner uses a tool-scope — the microscope of the manufacturing world — to gauge exact measurements to a dizzyingly minute number. 

“It makes it super challenging because the parts are so small, so I have to cut things super small,” Miner said.

The micro-manufacturing process begins on the computer, where Miner uses the Mastercam software program to provide the CNC machine with instructions to create a part.

Before Miner can even make a part, though, he has to design it. He creates electrodes from graphite or copper that burn the desired shape into steel. Creating the intricate features of each tiny part requires creativity and visualization.    

“I can’t always get my cutters into every little area that I need to on the electrodes,” Miner said. “I have to break it down and use my imagination to see it.”

Finally, when the software and CNC machine complete their work, Miner revels in the completion of another complicated part.  

“It’s kind of a sense of accomplishment,” Miner said. “Almost every mold that comes through Accumold has to come through me or two other guys who do the electrode designing. It’s just kind of neat to know that everything we do here starts with one of us.”

That feeling follows Miner home, too. For Miner, making is more than a career. It’s a way of life.

He recently bought a home and is remodeling the entire interior. Though he used tools larger than a human hair to build a deck on the back of his home, Miner praises the value of making on every scale. That value resides in the movement’s versatility.    

“Making is good because it’s such a wide variety, however you look at it,” Miner said. “Anywhere from working in a company where you’re helping a company make money and helping others with the parts you’re producing, all the way to being at home remodeling your house. You’re making something.”  

Category: Make@SCI