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: Principal Park and the Pythagorean Theorem

    Lines and figures dart from home plate, but they’re not plans for a winning play at Principal Park… They’re plans for every angle of an official baseball field, down to every last angle.

    Casey Scheidel, business/project manager at Iowa Cubs Sports Turf Management, peels away the layers of a proposed baseball and softball complex in Anamosa, Iowa. Each blueprint page reveals a single element of a regulation field: the distance from home plate to the bases, the elevation of the mound, the watering radius of each sprinkler.

    Geometry — and in particular, the Pythagorean Theorem — informs every element of your ballpark experience. Here are a few examples of the geometry of baseball in action:

    • It all starts at home plate. A surveyor determines the latitude and longitude of home plate, and the position of every other element of the field is based on its location. Home plate is 60 feet, 6 inches from the center of the pitcher’s mound.
    • Laser focus. Surveyors and engineers use software and GPS technology to exact the measurements of every point on the field.
    • Sun in your eyes? It’s for the batter’s sake. Major League Baseball stadiums are positioned based on sun angles, so the batter never looks directly into the sun.Pitch perfect. The perfect pitching mound increases in height one inch per foot.
    • Flattening the field can take days. Field elevation can’t change more than a quarter-inch over 25 square feet… And it can take the tractor up to two days to grade it, roll it and grade it again.
    • High-tech homeruns. Surveyors use CAD, computer aided drafting, to map the latitude and longitude of every point on the field, including the location of each fencepost.
    • Geometric grass. The signature crisscrosses, swirls and circles in the turf serve no purpose beyond beautifying the field… But geometry is key in their creation. The I-Cubs’ turf crew carefully lines up its mowers with the foul line and bases — and it can take five days to define a design on the field.

    Experience the angles, lines and symmetry of your everyday world at the ballpark AND at SCI!

    Iowa Cubs opening day is April 7. As you munch on peanuts and Cracker Jacks, imagine the now-invisible lines that helped create your favorite ballpark moments. Then, schedule a trip to SCI, where you can get moving with math in Geometry Playground, featuring a 10-foot climbing structure, Anamorphic Hopscotch and the Geometry Garden!

  • 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.