SCI 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 of all ages come to explore science and technology.

To continue the learning outside our building, we bring 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, in-depth information about science events and STEM connections in the Des Moines area.

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  • Mental Health Matters

    One in five adults (600,000 Iowans) live with mental illness. Whether it’s a friend, family member, coworker, classmate – or yourself – mental illness affects us all.

    Yet, the stigma around it persists.

    At SCI, we bring learning to life, helping hundreds of thousands of Iowans better understand the world around them. Mental health is a critical topic, and through science, we can understand it better. When we approach mental health, we have the opportunity to talk about multidisciplinary fields of science, like psychology, physiology, chemistry and more.

    With support from HealthPartners UnityPoint Health and numerous other community sponsors and partners, we are continuing the conversation with Mental Health: Mind Matters. This groundbreaking exhibit gives our community the chance not only to talk about mental illness, but also to understand what 600,000 Iowans live with every day. It helps all of us empathize with one another and better understand what mental illness is.

    We encourage you to experience Mind Matters for yourself. Listen to audio recordings that simulate the experience of schizophrenia. Learn about people who battle mental health every day, overcoming stigma and limitations. Discover techniques to express your emotions and strengthen your own mental health. Build emotional resilience and physically shred your worries and fears.

    Mental Health: Mind Matters is at SCI through April 28, and it is included with admission. In addition, numerous community conversations are planned to shine a light on the spectrum of mental health – from early childhood to aging populations.

    Mental health matters to us as a cultural institution in Des Moines, as individuals within Iowa, and it matters to us, personally, as human beings. We’re working to break down the stigma and #MakeItOK. Please join us.

  • Pi Day Celebration

    March 14 is Pi Day, celebrated in honor of the first three digits of the infamous, irrational number pi (π) – 3.14!

    Pi is a fascinating number, but many students (and adults!) have a difficulty understanding what exactly pi is and why it’s important. Pi Day is a great opportunity for students to learn about the practical application of pi and how it’s useful in our everyday lives.

    Pi is used to calculate how much icing is needed to cover a round cake, how much paint will fill a can – it’s even used in GPS calculations. In nature, pi is in our DNA’s double helix, a rainbow and the pupil of an eye.

    Classroom Activity

    What is pi? It’s the ratio of a circle's circumference to its diameter (or its area to the square of its radius). Help students discover this ratio with a simple hands-on activity:


    • Yarn or string
    • A cylindrical object (a can works well)
    • Scissors
    • A pencil or marker
    • Paper
    1. Wrap the string tightly around the cylinder. Cut the string so it is exactly long enough to go around the cylinder. (This string represents the circumference of the cylinder.)
    2. Trace the outline of the bottom of the cylinder on the piece of paper and cut out the circle.
    3. Fold the circle in half. (This crease represents the diameter.)
    4. Hold the string taut, and line it up with the diameter (crease) of the paper circle. Mark the end point on the string with a marker or pencil.
    5. Starting at this end point, line the string up against the diameter again. Repeat until you run out of string.

    How many diameters fit along the length of the string? The answer should be 3 with a little room to spare (that’s 3.14). This is pi in action!

    No matter the size of the cylinder, the number of diameters you can fit along the string will always be roughly 3.14!

    NGSS Connections

    Grades K-2: Students can look for circles throughout the room, their home and the community. Finding circles in shapes like cylinders will help them in understanding the relationship of two dimensional shapes to three dimensional shapes. K.A.G.3

    Grades 3-5: Students can understand the properties of a circle that define it as such. They can also explore the symmetry of the shape as can be defined by the diameter. 4.G.A.3

    Middle School: Students can begin to utilize the value of pi in calculating the area of circle. Recognizing that pi is a ratio between the diameter and the circumference. If you took a piece of string, tied it into a loop and then made various shapes out of it, which shape would give you the greatest volume? A circle. 8.G.C.9

    High School: Students can recognize the properties of circles that define them as such.  HSG.C.A.1