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: Marine biology teacher empowers students to save the nautilus

    Humid, salty air whirls with the help of an industrial fan, circulating an unusual scent for Downtown Des Moines. Clownfish crowd several tanks, their bright orange color a refreshing break from barren winter scenery.

    The Central Campus Aquarium boasts a welcoming atmosphere to match its welcoming classroom environment.

    Around 20 percent of students enrolled in Central Campus’ marine biology and aquarium science programs are interested in continuing their study after graduation. Greg Barord, the marine biology teacher, welcomes students of all interests by encouraging aquarium involvement customized to their skills.

    Communications-savvy students manage the aquarium’s Facebook, Twitter and Instagram accounts. Aspiring artists design the program’s display cases. Future marine biologists guide maintenance and conservation efforts in the one-of-a-kind aquarium.

    Aquarium offers unique interactions with rare species

    Central Campus is the only high school in America that features the nautilus, a species of cephalopod.

    The nautilus is especially dear to Barord, who has dedicated his doctoral research to the species and its conservation. He’s in his final year of study at the City University of New York.

    “It’s one of the oldest animals on the planet,” Barord said. “It’s amazing connecting this 500-year-old animal with 15- and 16-year-old students using the nautilus as a symbol of, ‘Here’s what we can do. Here’s where we can go. Here are the cool things we can do.’”

    At Central Campus, the nautilus is more than a rare showpiece — it’s a call for action.

    Program mobilizes students in ocean conservation, research

    Whether students pursue careers in communications, art or marine biology, Barord said he hopes the Central Campus Aquarium instills in them a lifelong appreciation for the ocean.

    “The students’ research is a key part of helping to save the nautilus in the wild. It’s a symbol of what we want this program to continue to do,” Barord said. “We’re one of the few facilities in the world that has nautiluses, let alone a high school.”

    Students dedicate free time to aquarium care 365 days a year

    Barord is quick to point out that the nautilus isn’t the aquarium’s only one-of-a-kind feature. Here at Central Campus, students volunteer their free time — up to four hours a day — to feed, clean and monitor every tank in the facility.

    Caring for a state-of-the-art aquarium doesn’t abide by the school bell, but Barord said he never has trouble scheduling student volunteers after hours.

    “During summer breaks and winter breaks, they’re up here volunteering. Sometimes, we have too many volunteers,” Barord said. “It’s not hard to find volunteers, especially over Christmas and New Year’s. I think that’s the cool thing about this aquarium. It is student-run.”

    Global partnerships and travel opportunities enrich learning experience

    Students’ dedication in the aquarium fuels learning experiences beyond Central Campus. Barord is leading an ocean ecology trip to California in March, where students will have the opportunity to apply their studies on Catalina Island.

    Barord’s research takes him to the Philippines and Australia in the summer, and everywhere he goes, he encourages student collaboration.

    “I travel to the Philippines and Australia in the summer and connect my students here with those students,” Barord said. “It’s more than just Iowa. It’s more than just Fiji. It’s people everywhere working together.”

    Take a virtual tour of the Central Campus Aquarium.

  • SCI Volunteer Spotlight: Get to know Dana Kirkegaard

    There’s a key component in every scientific discovery, and you won’t find it in a beaker, a graduated cylinder or even in the lab. It’s interpersonal communication, the key element for SCI volunteer Dana Kirkegaard.

    For the 17-year-old aspiring chemistry major, interactions with participants and scientific concepts complete the SCI volunteer experience.

    “Interacting with people is a good skill to have. If you make a discovery but can’t communicate it, what does that really mean?” Kirkegaard said.

    The variety of interpersonal opportunities at SCI motivates Kirkegaard to maintain a busy volunteer schedule. From regular weekend hours to special events including Blue Ribbon Bacon Festival Jr. and Des Moines Mini Maker Faire, she meets a wide array of participants with diverse interests.

    “You can tell participants here are really involved and take things away from what they learn at the Science Center of Iowa,” she said.

    Though SCI is a popular destination for children, Kirkegaard said her volunteer work provides valuable opportunities to interact with adults. Whether she’s answering young participants’ questions in her favorite experience platform, When Things Get Moving, or meeting staff, Kirkegaard said SCI’s volunteer opportunities give her a new outlook.

    “As a high school student, I haven’t had a lot of opportunities to work with adults. It’s a great experience,” she said. “You get to work with different people. It gives you a different perspective.”