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: Iowa students develop custom apps for SCI

    SCI is moving into the 21st Century with the help of Iowa students who, this semester, will develop a “Design Your Visit to SCI” app for Android devices.

    In a world constantly buzzing with text messages, gadgetry, virtual reality and beyond, middle and high school students are already up-and-coming tech experts. HyperStream Clubs take that know-how to a new level by inviting students from across Iowa to build tech projects in an after-school setting. Each semester features a new proposal.

    This semester, students will use Appinventor software to design, build and prototype an app that guides participants to the SCI attractions and features that best fit the ages and interests of their group. The project will provide an opportunity for students to work directly with a client. Then, in December, each club will present its product, and SCI staff will provide feedback before selecting a winner.

    For Callanan Middle School club mentor Keith Huls, each semester-long contest is about more than crowning a winner and unveiling a new product: It’s about developing Iowa’s innovation ecosystem.

    “We hope to build a strong technical foundation that keeps people in the state,” said Huls, an IT application analyst lead at Principal Financial Group. “At Principal, we want to have a deeper technical pool, and it starts with a strong technical foundation here. We are investing in the future for the state.”

    That future starts with a simple model: feedback. While students may complete a classroom assignment, receive a grade and toss the finished product, HyperStream Clubs create dialogue as students collaborate with peers and clients to revise and improve projects.

    Stacy Monroe, an IT application analyst senior at Principal and Huls’ co-mentor, said the SCI app will provide an opportunity for students to become user experience designers.

    “This is a good opportunity for students to develop a product, get it in front of a client and say, ‘Does this make sense? Does it work like you expect it to?’ and then take it back and make changes,” Monroe said. “That’s real-world experience of what IT is.”

    As co-mentors, Monroe and Huls strive to instill confidence through a guiding idea:You’realreadya tech producer.

    “Students are already developing multimedia every time they use Snapchat and Instagram,” Huls said. “Technology sparks creativity. With technology, the tools are there, and the cost to get involved is typically pretty low. It gives students the confidence that they can do things, they can build apps, they can develop multimedia.”

    This is the first year the Technology Association of Iowa, HyperStream’s parent organization, has partnered with a nonprofit in the community on a project inspired by all three organizations’ missions: inspiring the next generation of Iowa tech professionals.

    “When the opportunity came up for us to partner with the Science Center of Iowa, it was really a perfect marriage because it fulfills our mission of doing partnerships, having real-life, project-based educational opportunities for students, and it’s a perfect way to expose students to the larger role of STEM education,” said Tyler Wyngarden, TAI director of talent development.

  • 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.”