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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: Local scientist wins NASA Mars challenge

    Pierre Blosse is celebrating a pretty big accomplishment: Last month, the Urbandale resident was one of three winners of NASA’s Journey to Mars Challenge, which invited the public to submit ideas for developing long-term residence on the Red Planet. But there won’t be any celebratory cake just yet — an achievement like this calls for a cosmic recipe, the kind that could sustain life on Mars.

    That’s what Blosse is cooking up in his research. He’s using chlorella algae, a single-source microorganism, to develop an efficient, starch-rich flour that could provide a sustainable food source for future Mars colonists.

    “I thought, ‘Why not use the starch in the algae to make food since it’s so much more efficient and grows faster?’” Blosse said. “I read a lot of research articles and literature about it. I was convinced it was actually a good idea, and it was a feasible idea, so I decided to write about it.”

    Blosse, who works at DuPont Pioneer, submitted a technical paper on his findings, giving NASA a license to the idea.

    Though the paper focused on chlorella’s Martian viability, he isn’t overlooking the algae’s potential on Earth, too.

    “It ties in with agriculture, which is something I’m interested in,” Blosse said. “It’s important to feed the world, and this is just another way to do it.”

    Blosse is working with researchers at Iowa State University’s BioCentury Research Farm, where he’ll try to test and prove his idea is a viable option for feeding future Mars residents. He said he’s not counting on Mars One to make its much-hyped one-way trip to the Red Planet by the 2020 goal but expects Elon Musk’s SpaceX to visit Mars within his lifetime.

    He hopes his chlorella concept eventually makes the six-month journey to Mars, too. Until then, Blosse will continue researching his recipe for long-term life on the Red Planet.

    Curiosity is the key ingredient.

    “For me, it’s really important to understand how things work,” he said. “I’m always trying to learn new things, not just for my job, but personally, too.”

  • Campers explore genetics with Chubby the guinea pig

    • Friday August 14 2015
    • Camps

    STEM learning can come from a variety of places. In this summer’s Vet Tech camps for third and fourth graders, it came from Chubby, a brown-and-white guinea pig who doubles as a cute, cuddly example of genetics in action.

    “What do you think her parents might have looked like?” asked SCI Programs Coordinator Bridgett Harvey.

    Using the guinea pig as an example, campers completed Punnett Squares for Chubby’s fur color, softness and more. In between exclamations of “Awwww!” and, “We love you, Chubby!” students explored phenotypes and genotypes, as well as proper pet care.

    Harvey said Chubby exemplifies the hands-on experiences that are at the core of SCI Summer Camps.

    “Chubby brings a real-life example of what campers are learning about with Punnett Squares in the Vet Tech camp,” she said. “They can see her different colors and fur types and relate those to dominant and recessive traits.”

    In addition to helping teach genetics, the Vet Tech campers’ beloved pet also exemplifies real-life resilience.

    Abandoned in a dumpster, Chubby was surrendered to a local Animal Rescue League for rehabilitation, where she was then adopted by Bridgett.

    “Chubby has an incredible story and charming personality that campers love,” Harvey said. “She is also a good role model for responsibility with pet care, which is an important message to campers.”