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


Bailey heads to Boston

Bailey heads to Boston

Yesterday, we bid adieu to our Maker-in-Residence Bailey as she heads to Boston to pursue her dream of making artificial heart valves!

She's been accepted for an engineering co-op position with Boston Scientific in Marlborough, MA, where she will be working with an R&D team that's developing a pulmonary airway stent. 

We wish Bailey the best of luck on her next adventure!

Learn more about Make@SCI.

Category: Make@SCI


Makers in the Community: Latham Hobbs

Makers in the Community: Latham Hobbs

By Taylor Soule

Latham Hobbs created an impromptu maker workshop in the creek bed behind his childhood home. There, 5-year-old Hobbs dismantled everything from bicycles to pedal cars to fishing lures — before putting them back together, of course. 

Two decades later, Hobbs’ workshop looks dramatically different. As a CNC programmer at Accumold in Ankeny, the 25-year-old directs high-tech computers that build complex microstructures from steel and plastic.

Though his haven is no longer at the bottom of a creek, and though he now spends more time putting things together than taking them apart, Hobbs’ maker outlook remains the same.

“The mindset you have to have is, ‘Nothing is impossible,’” Hobbs said. “That’s about the only way I can describe it. You just have to have the determination to make it possible.”

For Hobbs, making is practically second nature. He grew up watching his father take apart cars — only to rebuild them. That experience fueled Hobbs’ passion for working with his hands, and he quickly graduated from building with LEGO and K’Nex sets to building a bed frame from wood in high school. 

“I like mechanic stuff, anything gas-powered, anything pedal-powered, anything that can float or fly,” Hobbs said. “I had the mindset that if somebody could put it together, I could tear it apart and then put it back together. I can’t think of one thing I had as a kid I did not tear apart and put back together.” 

His versatility as a maker led to a 2007 Accumold Scholarship award. In his application, Hobbs said he enjoys “making tangible items that serve a purpose.” Hobbs earned an associate’s degree in tool- and die-making from Des Moines Area Community College and immediately found his niche at Accumold, which creates microstructures for cell phones, cars, surgical procedures and even the aerospace industry.  

Whether he’s building with LEGOs, K’Nex, wood or metal, Hobbs champions the power of manufacturing at every level. Plus, Hobbs said the manufacturing field is rife with opportunities, thanks to a growing demand for makers and their talents. 

“I love what I do,” Hobbs said. “I would definitely encourage other people to give it a try, whether it be on the design side or the production side, because America needs manufacturing. We need stuff made, and we need makers to do it.”

At work and at home, projects don’t always turn out perfectly, but for Hobbs, that’s an integral part of the making experience — and a constant challenge to create new solutions. 

“If something doesn’t work, you have to find a way to make it work, make it better or simplify it,” Hobbs said. 

In a field defined by experimentation and innovation, failure isn’t necessarily negative. It’s simply a chance to learn something new.

“Failure is probably the most frustrating part, but you can’t learn unless you have failure,” Hobbs said.

Whether it’s a creek bed, a manufacturing company, a science laboratory, a writers’ workshop or an art studio, one key principle defines making for Hobbs: “It’s about trying it. You honestly don’t know until you try.”  

Category: Make@SCI


Playing with Phenomena: Paper-Making

Playing with Phenomena: Paper-Making

For the second and last week of our "Playing with Phenomena" theme, we made our own paper. To do this, we made pulp, pulled sheets using screens and dried the sheets.

The pulp we used was simply made out of newspaper and water, something that could easily be replicated at home (see instructions below). This means we were actually making recycled paper, so our making was also good for the environment!

On a few days we also worked with mulberry bark, or Kozo, which was donated to us by the University of Iowa Center for the Book. After boiling this bark for two hours, participants helped us to beat it into a pulp which could then be used to make another type of paper.

The “yuckiness” of the pulp did turn away some, but those that gave it a try got to see that it really wasn’t that bad, and they got to make some awesome paper, as shown in the picture. While not every piece turned our as a perfect rectangle, all of the finished products were unique and functional.


Directions for newspaper-based pulp:

  1. Tear an old newspaper into strips, and soak in water for about 30 minutes
  2. Rip the newspaper into even smaller pieces to be blended, and fill up a blender halfway with these pieces
  3. Fill the blender the rest of the way with warm water
  4. Blend on low speed for about 10 seconds, then on high for about 20
  5. If pulp is too thick to pull sheets of paper, add water as needed

Category: Make@SCI


Playing with Phenomena: Moss Graffiti

Playing with Phenomena: Moss Graffiti

By: Gavin Warnock, SCI Maker-In-Residence

This week was all about moss graffiti, an interesting and eco-friendly way to decorate a wall space!

There are two mains ways to make moss graffiti. One method grinds up any moss to start the growth process from scratch. There are many good sources for directions, and almost any search for a moss graffiti how to will get you where you need to go (There are recipes with and without beer). The main benefit of this method is that you only need a small amount of moss. The downside is you need at least a month to see the fruits of your labor.

The other method we found is as simple as making a paste that will both attach the moss and provide nutrients to assist the transfer. This is the method we used because it allows for instant results. This method is a lot less popular, but I found one source with a good recipe: (The narrator mentions stopping when the paste got lumpy, but we found that mixing through the lumpiness gave us a smooth paste). This recipe calls for beer, but we found success replacing the beer with water.

To get moss, you can simply harvest some from the backyard - and we did just that! We used several different types of moss (including ground moss) and found success with most. Additionally, there are several sites where you can buy different types of sheet moss that will spring back to life with a little water. is a site with great selection.

During our studio time, we had a lot of fun working with all ages in making our moss graffiti. We decided to create a mural on a piece of particle board, and all of us had a great time watching it evolve and gain character. We had contributions from toddlers to adults with little difficulty in any group. During this time, we found that spreading the paste by hand and applying about as thick as you would spread peanut butter gave us the best results. Additionally, the paste can be refrigerated for later use, but it must be stored in a sealed container to avoid unwanted drying. In the end, we got a great mural with the combined efforts of over fifty visitors and staff!

Category: Make@SCI


What is "Making" & Why Does It Matter?

What is "Making" & Why Does It Matter?

What Is "Making"?

This is a great question! And the answer is best put by Travis Good, of MAKE Magazine, in this article on the topic. Here's an excerpt:

"At the lowest level, 'making' is something primal. We need to make, and in making, there’s a great sense of satisfaction. Moving up the making hierarchy has historically required the grand pre-requisite of acquiring skills. We start off with amateurish work. With time and lots of practice, we gradually improve. Eventually, with the guidance of skilled mentors, we achieve a measure of expertise and become true craftsmen. People are creative. People want to make. However skills acquisition has been a huge barrier. That’s changing.

"Computers and the internet have been slowly reducing the barriers to making. For decades, tools have become smarter, design software has become more powerful, and they’ve conspired to make it easier to go from concept to prototype. While computers have done their part, the internet, too, has contributed in a big way. With the twin communication activities of sharing and collaborating, it’s now easier than ever to mature an idea into a product. Now, you can start building using designs shared by others, you can find people with complimentary skills with whom to collaborate, and you can create prototypes, iterate and improve quickly. We’re living in a new reality. That is what’s different. That is what’s changed. We’re at a tipping point. What we have today isn’t your father’s 'making' anymore."

Why Making Matters (especially in Iowa)

Making through prototyping, testing, experimenting, inventing and innovating is sparking new interest in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). It’s helping promote values like creativity, problem-solving, collaboration and self-expression -- all skills necessary to fill jobs in the world’s fastest-growing industries.

Making is preparing young people for STEM careers by getting them to participate in the process and perceive themselves as makers.

Encouraging a "Makers Movement" in Iowa can reap significant economic benefits. According to Iowa Workforce Development, a highly-skilled workforce that has the opportunity to create ground-breaking new processes is essential to the future of manufacturing in our country.

Iowa remains one of the nation’s top states for manufacturing with employees in advanced manufacturing jobs earning an annual average wage of $52,983. Iowa is proud to be on the cutting edge of advanced manufacturing, and by engaging a new generation of students with STEM skills, SCI can support its efforts.

Making is also attracting the interest of educators concerned about students’ disengagement from STEM subjects in formal educational settings. It is seen as having the potential to contribute to a more participatory approach and create new pathways into topics that will make them more alive and relevant to students.


This summer, making is at the center of SCI programming. Along with a Makers Studio that will be a permanent presence on the Main Level floor beginning June 7, two Makers Corps members will lead workshops, projects and special events throughout the summer. Every two weeks will focus on one aspect of Making - from manipulating nature to programming, robotics, music, animation and even hacking.

It all culminates in a Maker Fair – September 1, 2014. Part science fair, part county fair and part
something entirely new, Maker Fair is an all-ages gathering of tech enthusiasts, artists, educators,
crafters, tinkerers, hobbyists, engineers, science clubs, authors and students. Iowa’s “makers” will come
to Maker Fair to show what they have made and share what they have learned.


Learn more about Make@SCI at

Category: Make@SCI