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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  • 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

  • Exhibit features 350,000 LEGO bricks

    From the Great Pyramids to Cinderella's Castle, our Brick by Brick exhibit houses an impressive set of structures built entirely from LEGO® bricks.

    In total, there are more than 350,000 bricks on display - plus plenty to build with, too!

    The builds

    All of the structures in the exhibit (minus the SCI build) were created by Adam Reed Tucker, a Chicago native and one of only 14 LEGO® Certified Professionals in the world.

    Burj Khalifa

    Burj Khalifa, in downtown Dubai, United Arab Emirates, is the tallest building in the world. It is 163 stories tall and contains more than 24,000 windows, as well as the longest elevator in the world. It was built by bundling structures of smaller size for strength, and a Y-shaped buttressed core prevents twisting in the wind.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • 12 feet tall
    • Design time: 45 hours
    • Build time: 60 hours
    • Number of bricks: 16,500
    • This is the only model where Adam has used a mathematical expression to visualize the design.

    Cinderella’s Castle

    This theme park icon was designed by Herbert Dickens Ryman, a Disney artist and close friend of Walt Disney. Forced perspective makes this structure appear larger than it is. The windows and bricks on upper levels are made smaller to seem farther away. Steel framed construction and a 10-inch-thick concrete wall lie beneath the ornate façade and allow this building in central Florida, where hurricanes are a threat, to withstand 100 mile-per-hour wind gusts.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • 5 feet tall
    • Design time: 145
    • Build time: 230
    • Number of bricks: 36,000
    • Almost every LEGO building technique in Adam’s repertoire has been used in the castle.


    This National Historic Landmark, designed by Frank Lloyd Wright, is considered the “best all-time work of American architec­ture” by the American Institute of Architects. Completed in 1938, it was built as a private Pennsylvania residence designed to incorporate and complement the surrounding woodland and waterfall. The home is now open to public tours.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • 5 feet long
    • Design time: 170 hours
    • Build time: 130 hours
    • Number of bricks: 21,100
    • With a set of careful manipulations, this model comes apart like a puzzle.

    The Gateway Arch

    The Arch is the nation’s tallest memorial and serves as a “Gateway to the West.” It is a catenary curve, with its width and height are equal at 630 feet. Architect Eero Saarinen was selected for the project through an anonymous design competition, and the monument was completed in 1965. Visitors can travel to the top of the Arch via an elevator system.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • 8 feet tall
    • Design time: 25 hours
    • Build time: 30 hours
    • Number of bricks: 7,500
    • Not unlike the real Arch, the model is self-supporting, even without the top sections in place.

    Golden Gate Bridge

    When the Golden Gate Bridge opened in 1937, it was then the longest suspension bridge in the world at 4,200 feet. Built to withstand both wind and earthquakes, each of the bridge’s cables comprises hundreds of wires, anchored for support. A deck truss prevents too much sway, but cables can still move up to 27 feet to accommodate winds.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • 60 feet long
    • Design time: 215 hours
    • Build time: 260 hours
    • Number of bricks: 64,500

    Great Pyramid of Giza

    The Great Pyramid of Giza is the oldest and most intact Wonder of the Ancient World: it’s the largest in a compound of buildings paying homage to Pharaoh Khufu and his family. It is believed to have been completed in 2560 B.C., and it remained the tallest human-built structure for nearly 4,000 years, made up of 2.3 million giant bricks in all. How these monumental structures were built remains up for study and debate.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • Almost 12 feet long
    • Design time: 50 hours
    • Build time: 45 hours
    • Number of bricks: 24,000
    • The pieces used in the corners are very rare, only found in a few sets that are no longer produced.

    Hoover Dam

    One of America’s Seven Modern Civil Engineering Wonders, the Hoover Dam was completed in 1935 as part of President Roosevelt’s New Deal. The dam’s goals were to tame the Colorado River, distribute water to the parched Southwest and provide hydroelectric power. It was constructed as an arch-gravity dam. Arch dams are best for narrow passages between steep rock walls; gravity dams’ massive weight hold back water.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • 5 feet long
    • Design time: 215 hours
    • Build time: 160 hours
    • Number of bricks: 42,800
    • Adam experimented with more than six ways to construct this model.

    One World Trade Center

    This building opened on November 3, 2014, as the tallest building in the Western Hemisphere. It extends 1,776 feet into the air, a tribute to the year the Declaration of Independence was signed. Through its design, architects and engineers wanted to pay homage to the original World Trade Center as well as convey resilience and inspire hope.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • 10 feet tall
    • Design time: 15 hours
    • Build time: 45 hours
    • Number of bricks: 25,500
    • This model is completely hollow, with no internal structure or interior supports.

    Ping An Finance Center

    Opened in Shenzen, China in 2016, this new super-skyscraper is the country’s tallest at 1,965 feet. The build­ing’s completion marks Shenzen’s rise in population: In 35 years, the city’s population has grown from 300,000 to 10 million. Its sleek stainless steel façade will resist salt corrosion, and the columns provide both visual interest and resistance to wind.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • 6 feet tall
    • Design time: 25 hours
    • Build time: 60 hours
    • Number of bricks: 20,250
    • To simulate the rebars (steel rods in concrete), Adam used silver antennas from Star Wars

    Roman Colosseum

    The Colosseum was built in 70-80 A.D. in honor of Titus, Emperor Vespasian’s son. It is the largest amphitheater ever erect­ed, a gift to Roman citizens who would gather in its walls to watch gladiator fights, wild animal shows, re-enactments of battles and more. It could seat an estimated 50,000 to 80,000 patrons, but could empty in minutes because of its ingenious system of 80 entrance/exit arches, corridors and staircases.

    Fun facts about the LEGO version:

    • More than 6 feet long
    • Design time: 120 hours
    • Build time: 75 hours
    • Number of bricks: 22,500
    • To get the oval shape just right, the structure was redesigned over a dozen times.

    BONUS: Science Center of Iowa & Blank IMAX Dome Theater

    The Science Center of Iowa & Blank IMAX Dome Theater opened in Downtown Des Moines in 2005. The scale replica of is made from 75,000 LEGOs, an example of ingenuity and engineering in action! The builders examined blueprints and used computer aided drafting to sketch the building before they even started constructing it.

    • Designed and built by local LEGO enthusiast Chris Hettinger and the Iowa LEGO Users Group in 2013
    • 8 feet long
    • Number of bricks: 75,000 bricks

    Plan your visit

    In addition to these spectacular LEGO®-built structures, the Brick by Brick exhibit features hands-on building challenges to help you discover your inner builder. Plan your visit today