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.

All Posts

  • Meet Our Maker: Ellie Willhoit

    Have you ever wondered who comes up with the projects for the Summer of Making? Meet Ellie! From Studio Time to Member Family Workshops, Ellie tells us about how she got started, what she loves about her job and what aspiring Makers can do to get started.

    SCI: Can you tell us a little about your role is at the Science Center of Iowa?

    Ellie: I do a little bit of a lot of things! I started four summers ago as a Resident Maker, and I’m now the Programs Coordinator. During the school year, I work on the Programs Team and create curriculum plans for the Member Family Workshops and other programming. During the summer, I switch gears and help run the Maker program.

    SCI: What got you interested in making in the first place?

    Ellie: I think we are all makers at heart. My husband and I always liked to tinker with things. We took some time off work and helped our friends build a letterpress studio, which was a lot of fun. When I eventually saw the job posting from SCI, I jumped on it!

    SCI: What is your favorite project you’ve worked on at SCI?

    Ellie: I have a blast doing the family night workshops. This last family night, we made rubber band helicopters, which was hilarious. You give people a template for what they’re going to make, and then you let them experiment. People got really creative, and about halfway through, it was raining propellers and rubber bands from the ceiling. It was amazing, and a lot of fun!

    SCI: For people who don’t know, what are Member Family Workshops?

    Ellie: Member Family Workshops happen the second Friday of every month. It’s a night where we have $5 admission, and we stay open until 8. We have free member workshops that people can register for – you need to be a member to get into it, but it is a free perk of being a member.

    SCI: What do you think is your favorite part of your job?

    Ellie: Being out on the floor and hanging out with people! I really like seeing kids get creative with the projects we present them with. Sometimes I get surprised with the stuff they come up with.

    Studio Time is also really fun. We’ve had some great experimenters, and it’s exciting when we get kids that are comfortable working through the engineering-design cycle, and being okay with a project that doesn’t work perfectly, then tweaking it until it works the way it’s supposed to.

    SCI: That’s what makes you a good maker, right?

    Ellie: Right! Making happens when you see something that doesn’t work, and you fix it or improve it.

    SCI: Can you think of any really creative things you’ve seen in the Maker Studio?
    Ellie: There was a kid who came by Studio Time after working at our tool benches. He made a Tyrannosaurus Rex out of wooden blocks, but he built a swinging mechanism into it so his head would move. Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever seen anything like that come out of Tool Time before! It’s great how he just took some regular tools and some screws and wood, and created an object with moving parts. I was blown away!

    SCI: Are there any projects that you haven’t been able to make work?
    Ellie: This is something I have to think pretty hard about. We did a collaborative art project last year that ended up being really challenging, but it was mostly just from a printing perspective and trying to figure out how to get it mounted the way we wanted it to. It ended up working out okay, but it kinda made me want to pull my hair out towards the end. It was a photo mosaic, so we took picture of visitors throughout the summer, and then we uploaded them and had another photo composited on top of it. All the little pictures were tinted in the right way, so when you stepped further way, the mosaic looked like something else. It was time-consuming, but we did finish it in the end!

    SCI: How do you come up with your projects?

    Ellie: It depends on the project. A lot of times, we’ll get inspiration from things online, but we’ll tweak it so it works with our program. For example, a project for Studio Time will be more open-ended so a 3-year-old and a 53-year-old will both be able to experiment with it. If we’re doing something for the summer camps, we’ll make sure it ties into the theme of the camp and is age-appropriate for our campers. Overall, it’s a mixture of Google-ing, a lot of prototyping and tons of experimenting to make our projects work.

    SCI: What do you recommend for people who want to start making?

    Ellie: Just start making things! Figure out something you’re interested in, and just try making it and see how it works. If it doesn’t work great you can try experimenting and helping it work better and do it again!

    The Summer of Making will be going on throughout the summer at the Science Center of Iowa. While you stop by to create, invent and explore, be sure to save the date on Monday, September 3 to come to our Maker Faire! The Des Moines Mini Maker Faire features dozens of exhibitors, tons of projects, games, food trucks and most importantly, fun! To learn more (or to sign up to be an exhibitor), visit http://desmoines.makerfaire.com/ , and be sure to check our social media channels for exciting news and updates!

  • Meet Our Maker: Sabrina Carper

    We sat down with one of our resident Makers, Sabrina Carper. She talked to us about what it’s like to be a Maker, what she’s working on and what she’s looking forward to the most. This interview was edited to make it more concise and clarified

    SCI: Can you tell us a little bit about what you do at the Science Center?

    Sabrina: Sure! I am a Maker, which means I get to make fun things. We also organize Studio Time, which takes place from 1:00-3:00 PM on Mondays through Fridays. Every week, we have different activities that all have a science or STEM goal associated with them. For example, this week we’re making “seed bombs,” or “seed bags,” and using those to talk about pollinators and the way plants grow. It’s a fun way to help visitors to the science center make new things and learn about the Maker Movement and help connect it back to science topics they might have learned a bit about in school or at home.

    SCI: How do you come up with the experiments?

    Sabrina: The head of our team, Ellie, organizes the Studio Time activities. We make sure to prototype all of them before we bring them to the floor, so a lot of my time in the office is spent testing things out to see what does and doesn’t work. This way, when we help participants on the floor make their projects, it’s easier to troubleshoot to make sure everything’s going smoothly.

    SCI: What got you interested in making in the first place?

    Sabrina: My dad is a maker who has a 3D printer at home, so making has been a part of my life and my household for a while. I started working at SCI because I’m interested in education and have done a lot of work in summer camps and art. I’m a studio arts major, so I’m not really in the education field - I’m just very passionate about it. The “maker” aspect of this job draws everything in like together, so this is perfect for me!

    SCI: What do you do with your 3D printer at home?

    Sabrina: My dad designs things with it by using a piece of software called “Blender.” It’s a free, open source piece of software you can do 3D modeling in. My dad and I both use it to design board games together for fun. He also makes toys for my little brother, dice for games we have and all sorts of crazy stuff like that. It’s really cool.

    SCI: What do you consider the best part of your job?

    Sabrina: That’s a hard one. If I had to settle on a few, I’d say Studio Time is the most fun, but it’s also great to talk to visitors and tell people about Make. The act of making the things is also a great part. Prototyping is also a lot of fun, because you’re testing something you’ve never done before. You think to yourself: “This is either going to fail horribly and explode in my face” or “It’s going to work and be super-duper cool!”

    SCI: There’s probably a fine line between the two, right?

    Sabrina: Yeah! Sometimes you get to the prototyping stage and realize there’s no way this will work, which means you’ll have to go through the test and design process again to make sure you find out what went wrong with it in the beginning. It’s great talking to kids through that process, also, because a lot of times kids get in the mindset of “it didn’t work, that means I should give up.” We get the chance to tell them to stop thinking like that and help them come up with something different and reimagine their project to make it work.

    SCI: What are some of your favorite projects you’ve created here?

    Sabrina: My favorite project was something we did last year and we’re going to do again this year: finger puppets! It’s a lot of fun because you get to teach kids how to sew, and at least for me, sewing is one of the most basic aspects of making because it’s one of the most basic ways to build things. It’s a lot of fun to watch young kids learn sewing, because it can be intimidating at first. When they realize how simple it can be, you can see it click in their heads and they realize that they’re making something happen, which is very exciting!

    It’s also a skill that’s inherently useful. If a button pops off your shirt or you need to stitch up your bag, you’ll know how to do it. It’s a great life skill, and I’m really happy we can teach it to younger kids.

    SCI: In addition to the finger puppet project, are there any other future projects you’re especially excited about?

    Sabrina: Right now, we’re working on putting together our collaborative art project. We haven’t ironed out all the details yet, but we’re planning on having a plant-related aspect to it. We have these test tubes, and we put water jelly crystals in them. You can grow plants through the crystals, which is called “hydroponic growing.” We want to put them on suction cups and put them on the window. Then, plants will start growing in them, which will let us see the root structure inside them, and we’ll let visitors bring in their own seeds and grow them on the windows in the Makers Studio. It should be really cool! We’re working our best to try to get this done, and we’re pretty excited about it.

    Something else cool is we’ll be able to color the water jelly crystals with food coloring, and make it look like a big mural.

    SCI: What are some of the most creative things you’ve seen the visitors do in the Maker Studio?

    Sabrina: We’ve seen people build some really cool stuff at Tool Time (which is an area in the Makers Studio where people can experiment with tools and different materials in a safe and controlled environment). A lot of people build really cool bird houses. I’ve even seen a person build a chair for their doll, which was creative. People have also made some cool stuff at Studio Time. One thing we did was something called “light painting,” where you take long-exposure photography while you’re moving glow sticks around. It leaves a streak of light in the photo, and people can move around a person and make lines and shapes by them. We saw someone make their brother a pirate. Someone drew butterfly wings around their friend. It was really cool to see the people working together in groups and making interesting things.

    SCI: As a Maker, what can you recommend to people who want to learn more about making?

    Sabrina: There’s a lot of resources, especially in the Des Moines area. If you want to dive headfirst into the field, check out Area 515. It’s a makerspace, and they have a lot of space with laser cutters, 3D printers, all sorts of stuff. Drake just opened up another makerspace, which has a lot of similar stuff to ours. Obviously, checking out our Maker Studio is a really great place to start, because we make it really accessible to all people. There’s also a lot of great resources online, like the Make Magazine (https://makezine.com/), which have a lot of 1-2-3 projects, which is step-by step instructions on how to make something cool. They have a lot of books, articles and all sorts of cool stuff. It’s nice to see the Maker Movement growing, because it makes it a lot more accessible for people.

    The Summer of Making will be going on throughout the summer at the Science Center of Iowa. While you stop by to create, invent and explore, be sure to save the date on Monday, September 3 to come to our Maker Faire! The Des Moines Mini Maker Faire features dozens of exhibitors, tons of projects, games, food trucks and most importantly, fun! To learn more (or to sign up to be an exhibitor), visit http://desmoines.makerfaire.com/ , and be sure to check our social media channels for exciting news and updates!