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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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  • STEM in DSM: Meet WHO meteorologist Amber Alexander

    For WHO Channel 13 meteorologist Amber Alexander, watching storms on the front porch of her Council Bluffs home inspired a career complete with weekly trips to the Science Center of Iowa. We sat down with Amber to discuss her path to the green screen, her lifelong Husker fandom and how she hopes to encourage future meteorologists at SCI.

    SCI: What inspired you to go into meteorology?

    AA: I was 11 and in sixth grade, and we were studying the basics of weather. That caught my attention, and I thought it was so cool. We were watching the news at home that night after school, and the screen said, ‘meteorologist,’ and I thought, “Wow, that’s really neat! That’s what I want to do someday.” I’ve stuck with it ever since. I grew up a huge Husker fan, so when I went to visit the University of Nebraska-Lincoln, I thought, “I can’t compete with this.”

    SCI: What is something aspiring meteorologists might not expect from an academic perspective?

    AA: I don’t think they expect how tough the coursework is. You see meteorologists on TV every day and might not realize their whole background involves math and very tough science classes. It goes all the way through the whole calculus sequence, a statistics class, plus a differential equations class. I loved math growing up, so that wasn’t a big deal for me.

    SCI: What kind of professional experience did you gain before coming to WHO-HD?

    AA: By my sophomore year of college, I was practicing to be a broadcast meteorologist the green screen. I had an internship with the state climatologist my sophomore year of college. I was 19 years old, and I had my own little office. I felt so cool. I was doing basic climate work and was tracking temperature trends throughout Nebraska.

    SCI: Can you describe your experience delivering the weather at the Science Center of Iowa?

    AA: The first day I worked at the Science Center of Iowa was actually Noon Year’s Eve, and it was absolutely crazy, but fun. It’s always fun to see kids come up and give me a hug. They’re so sweet, and they love to learn about the weather.

    SCI: How do you hope to inspire future meteorologists?

    AA: One of the most rewarding parts of my job is teaching young kids, especially young girls, that they can do it if they stick with it. We all have times that we don’t think we can get through it.You just have to stick through it and try your best, and you’ll eventually get where you want to be.

  • STEM mentor builds steel structures and lifelong connections

    Wanti Muchtar tagged along to construction sites starting at 5 years old, following her contractor father as he directed engineers in their Indonesian town. “Count the number of bricks to the top of the building,” he would say, giving his daughter her first engineering challenges. Muchtar looked on in awe as different materials united to form towering structures.

    “When I was young, I thought it was really cool because you could build things from scratch,” she said. “I started to learn how the building process works. It’s fascinating.”

    Counting bricks gave way to designing efficient, effective machinery and testing a variety of materials as a senior metallurgical engineer at Vermeer in Pella, where she has worked since 2011. Metallurgical engineers separate metals from their ores and adapt their shapes and properties to suit a variety of structures.

    Global experiences guide Muchtar from Indonesia to Iowa

    Muchtar’s path to Pella took a global route rooted in mentorship. After completing her undergraduate studies at the University of Indonesia, the island country’s lone institution for metallurgical engineering, Muchtar worked for two years as a technical support engineer at a steel manufacturing company before realizing she wanted to pursue a graduate degree.

    After all, new materials and building techniques emerge frequently in her field, providing new opportunities to redefine the maker mindset. She quit her job, moved to Tokyo and earned her master’s and doctoral degrees in metallurgical engineering.

    Muchtar’s specialty is adapting steel to build better structures, but metallurgical engineers work with a variety of materials — and we’ll need more in the future.

    “You have polymers, you have ceramics, a lot of materials,” she said. “In the future, we’ll need a lot more materials scientists in different fields, especially in building and making things.”

    Mentorship enriches engineering career

    Inspiring the next generation of engineers is about more than inviting women and girls to build amazing structures. It’s also about building up young women through mentorship. Muchtar is a mentor through Vermeer’s Women in Manufacturing group and is involved with SCI’s Girls in Science Initiative. Mentorship is a lifelong commitment for Muchtar.

    While she studied in Tokyo, Muchtar saw a promising high school student start to fall behind in her STEM classes.

    “When young women are struggling with STEM education, they can start to think, ‘I don’t think I can do this,’” she said.

    Muchtar supported the young woman throughout her studies. Later, she asked Muchtar for her recommendation to a Ph.D. program and completed her doctoral degree.

    Whether she’s working with fellow engineers at Vermeer or future engineers at SCI’s Girls in Science Festival, Muchtar works to encourage young women at every stage of STEM discovery.

    “Helping aspiring STEM professionals is an important role,” she said. “You want to share your time and look at these girls and ask, ‘What can I do for them?’”