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

  • Making in the Metro: ‘Lifetime Maker’ builds custom circuit boards

    The electronics of Arduino weren’t clicking for Michael Landon’s 13-year-old daughter. He could have handed her an instruction manual. He could have told her to “Google it.” But for Landon, a self-proclaimed “lifetime Maker,” learning is a hands-on, collaborative process.

    He built a small circuit board equipped with eight inputs, eight outputs and eight LED lights, and together, they learned to program it using Arduino. Landon captured the process, logging every mistake, triumph and A-ha! moment.

    “I make notes, so in the future when somebody asks me how I did this, I can say, ‘Well, I did this,’” he said.

    Each scribble added up to a programming book he’ll pair with the circuit board at Maker Faire Kansas City this weekend.

    Though he can’t create a custom circuit board and book for every Arduino-stumped Maker, Landon is ready to share his project and most importantly, the process behind it, as a first-time Faire exhibitor.

    “I made this circuit board and realized, ‘Hey, this could be something,’” Landon said.

    After years of admiring other Maker Faire exhibitors’ work, Landon is (almost) ready to show off his own innovative work. Sure, he wishes he had another week to prepare, but Maker Faire Kansas City marks a long-awaited culmination of his lifelong knack for tinkering — one that started in the ‘60s and ‘70s with his first set of LEGO bricks.

    LEGOs led to carpentry, electronics, circuitry and even tech writing. And three or four years ago, Landon discoveredMakemagazine. At last, he had a word for the innovative mindset that had weaved its way through every stage of his life.

    “That was about the first time I was able to put a term to what I’ve been doing all my life and say, ‘Yeah, I’m a Maker,’” Landon said.

    He now has a word for it, but his definition of the Maker mindset remains the same.

    “It’s just the idea that, ‘Hey, I’m not the only one who sees stuff that’s being thrown away,’ and thinks, ‘I can use that for something.’”

  • SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know Jenni Files

    A skittish baby mouse darts from corner to corner in its enclosure in the Animal Room at the Science Center of Iowa. Jenni Files knows the routine: soothing words, gentle movements. Eventually, she guides the little guy into his temporary home, so she can clean the cage.

    Every Friday morning from 7:00-8:30 am, Files volunteers in the Animal Room, meticulously cleaning and restocking 11 mice enclosures. In just six months, she has formed a connection with SCI’s mischief (that’s the word for a group of mice). 

    “They’re really nice, and it’s fun being able to see some of them grow up,” Files said. “It’s fun to be able to see them since they were super tiny.”

    Proud pet mother to a rabbit, two dogs and a cat, Files has always enjoyed working with animals. She shared her interest with SCI Volunteer Manager Chris Juhl, who connected her with Mark Rouw, SCI’s longtime animal specialist.

    After four weeks of training, Files had established her own routine in a volunteer role that fits her passion for the community and furry friends.

    “I think a lot of people have animals at home, and they are interested in animals, but I think it’s that one step of reaching out,” Files said. “Chris Juhl is so nice. Once you talk to him, he is very interested in matching your interests with what you can do as a volunteer at SCI.”

    Files’ passion for animal care has eased the workload for Rouw, too. With Files there to feed and monitor the mice every Friday, Rouw’s list of weekend preparations is more manageable.

    “With Jenni replacing the old mouse bedding, it really allowed me to take care of all of the other animal needs,” he said. “Another benefit of her help was it gave me a nice break from doing one of the less glamorous but very important animal jobs.”

    Files isn’t too concerned about the glamour factor either. She’s busy enjoying each new milestone in the Animal Room and at SCI.

    For Files, watching the mice grow from shut-eyed newborns to jumpy youngsters is a lot like watching the Science Center of Iowa evolve over the years.

    “I just love the Science Center of Iowa, and I’m really happy I’ve been able to do this,” Files said. “Coming here since I was 5 or 6 and then seeing it completely transform from the old location on Grand to this location and just being a part of it and seeing it every week, I really, really like it, and I’m very blessed to be a part of it.”