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  • SCI Staff Spotlight: Meet Rhiley Binns

    For SCI Programs Presenter Rhiley Binns, science education encompasses a variety of interests — and unusual audiences. From space enthusiasts and SCI visitors to reptiles and red pandas, Binns’ career has provided an array of interactions at every turn.

    After graduating from Central College with a degree in biology, Binns joined the SCI staff as a summer camp iEARTH educator. She introduced campers to Iowa’s natural habitats, waterways and native animals, championing conservation through canoe rides, hikes and hands-on activities.

    “There are amazing natural spaces in the Des Moines metro, and I loved spending every day outside exploring with campers,” Binns said.

    Her audience changed considerably that fall when she started a new role as the small mammal keeper at the Blank Park Zoo. Binns worked with red pandas, primates and more. Interacting with a diverse array of animals kept her busy, but there’s one audience she missed in particular.

    “I missed interacting with the public and teaching people about science,” Binns said.

    Today, she’s back at SCI full-time as a programs presenter, and she gets to work with Iowa’s native animals while sharing her passion for biology, conservation and science. Binns leads live programs like Cold-Blooded Critters, Zap! and more, as well as educating visitors about natural objects at theCollectors’ Cornermini-exhibit.

    Binns’ passion for science education still takes her outside at monthly Star Parties at Ewing Park and at SCI. Her new role as SCI’s astronomy expert keeps her in tune with what’s going on in the solar system.

    “I’ve been interested in astronomy since I was a child, so I love sharing what’s happening in the night skies with visitors and showing them how telescopes work,” she said. “It’s amazing when you see someone come to their first Star Party and experience the solar system in a new way.”

  • Iowa’s oldest oak makes SCI its new home

    The oldest oak species in Iowa is coming to SCI in the form of a giant tree slice that took more than five years to prepare.

    Animal Specialist Mark Rouw teamed up with the Iowa DNR, the Army Corps of Engineers, SCI staff and private land owners in 2012 to harvest a slice of the 442-year-old oak, which blew down in a storm near Hartford, Iowa, in 2005. Preserving the wood was the next step — one that required years of patience and, of course, science.

    After a trip to the sawmill to cut the specimen straight, Rouw sanded the surface and applied a wood-stabilizing chemical to the tree slice and let it dry for more than three years.

    “It’s all about how slow it dries,” he said. “We had some setbacks along the way but adjusted the chemicals as we went.”

    Three years later, the tree slice will soon move into its new, permanent home in SCI’s upper level experience platform What On Earth? on February 13. First, though, it’s being outfitted with a custom circle frame to hold the wood together.

    After years of work, Rouw said he’s excited to have a historic piece of Iowa’s environment at SCI.

    “I’m looking forward to seeing the finished piece,” he said.

    Visit SCI this spring to see the finished product in What On Earth?, and don’t miss other upgrades throughout the exhibitmade possiblein partthroughsupport from the State Historical Society of Iowa, Historical Resource Development Program.