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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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  • #SCI50th: Shatner cuts the ribbon to SCI's "new" planetarium in 1989

    #SCI50th: As we celebrate 50 years of inspiration and impact at the Science Center of Iowa, we are sharing stories and memories of how SCI was established, grew and continues to serve the next generation. View the timeline and stories at www.sciowa.org/50th

    "We can now not only show you a planet in the heavens, we can actually take you there."

    It only seems right that Captain James T. Kirk of Star Trek fame cut the ribbon at the Sargent Space Theater’s reopening on September 4, 1989.  

    And he celebrated the newest technology in the science center -- a Digistar, a computer-generated device that projected a three-dimensional image onto the theater dome. 

    It’s hard to figure out how he got to the ribbon cutting, though, considering the fictional Kirk won’t officially be born in Riverside, Iowa, until March 22, 2228. 

    William Shatner, the actor who plays Kirk in Star Trek was there to reveal the state-of-the-art Digistar Projection System.  

    The graphics system was developed specifically for planetariums, and in 1989, it was one of only 10 in the world. At the time, the $600,000 project was the single largest undertaking by the science center since it opened in 1970. 

    "The images it projects are revolutionary," SCI’s PR Director Jack Jones told the Urbandale News at the time. "We can now not only show you a planet in the heavens, we can actually take you there, and let you look back at mother Earth."

    After cutting the ribbon at the Sargent Space Theater, Shatner delivered a keynote address to guests at a VIP dinner at the science center that evening. 

    While the night was filled with fun, it certainly wasn’t Shatner's first or last trip to Iowa. 

    He first came to the state in the late 1960s to shoot some scenes for Star Trek. He came back in 2004 to film a television show called “Invasion Iowa" and then again in 2015 for the Wizard World Comic Con at the Iowa Events Center. 

    While Kirk won’t officially be an Iowan for another 208 years, Shatner seems to have found a second home here, nonetheless. 

    *Information was provided by The Urbandale News and the Des Moines Register. 

  • #SCI50th: Memories of an exhibit builder

    #SCI50th: As we celebrate 50 years of inspiration and impact at the Science Center of Iowa, we are sharing stories and memories of how SCI was established, grew and continues to serve the next generation. View the timeline and stories at www.sciowa.org/50th

    He wasn’t an engineer or an artist, yet Turner helped build some of the most iconic exhibits at the science center

    In 1985, Jon Turner was working as a contractor when he got a job installing a new countertop in the breakroom at the Des Moines Center of Science and Industry. 

    That simple job set off a long career with SCI, during which time he created more than 200 exhibits for what became the Science Center of Iowa. Turner designed everything from Downhill Racers, an exhibit using weights and gravity, to a giant Ice Age exhibit that used semi-trucks full of styrofoam that he built and sculpted into the set. 

    He wasn’t an engineer or an artist, yet Turner helped build some of the most iconic exhibits at the science center, such as "Zog Bones and His Colossal Fossils" and the Challenger Learning Center.

    Turner helped put together replicas of dinosaurs and sea creatures and, as is often the case with nonprofit museums, whatever was needed. The replicas often came in pieces, so he would help screw them together and apply paint touch-ups after they were rebuilt.

    He also built smaller exhibits -- hundreds of them -- that allowed children to participate in hands-on learning.

    In its early days, Turner said the science center was inspired by the Exploratorium in San Francisco, which was created by the Oppenheimer brothers. The brothers were famous for their work on the Manhattan Project.

    "They started this museum for kids and people in San Francisco, and everything in the entire place was interactive. There was always something to push or pull," Turner said. "Their mantra was, 'Let's build this as cheaply and as efficiently as we can. We don't need a lot of floss or big signage; all that we want is for people to come in and understand the science.'"

    Their approach resonated, so while Turner was working for the science center in Iowa, he started building those types of pieces, too. His goal was for there to be a station any child could walk up to and use, even if there were 100 other children in the building.

    What’s more, he built TWO of almost everything he designed so he could replace the machine on the floor, should it break.

    He remembers designing the stations while kneeling so he be "in the shoes" of the kids. 

    The science center offered more than that, too. 

    Turner said that, at one point, visitors could access the Challenger Learning Center, a laser show and a dinosaur show all with one ticket.

    "It was amazing," Turner said of the old center that sat in Greenwood Park. "I mean like 200,000 people or something went to the place and on Saturday nights, and it would be all hands on deck. We would sell out of gift shop stuff and every show we had on."