Thomas R. O'Donnell

Talkin’ science talks and Cyclone Survivor

In STEM on June 12, 2014 at 8:11 am
Gray wolves looking cute.

Canis lupus: the gray wolf, once roamed Iowa. Credit: Steve Jurvetson, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters via Compfight cc

A quick post to spread the word about two lecture series now in progress for folks living in Central Iowa. If you have a Friday night or Saturday afternoon free, they’re great destinations for engaging talks on wildlife, astronomy, biology and more. They’re at no charge and in beautiful settings.

I’ll also note the accomplishments of a Williamsburg FIRST LEGO League team in this year’s Global Innovation Award competition.

The Iowa Academy of Science sponsors the first set of talks, Saturdays at 2 p.m. starting this weekend. It’s the seventh year the academy has staged the lectures, co-sponsored with the Army Corps of Engineers, says Craig Johnson, the academy’s executive director.

All lectures are at the Saylorville Lake Visitor Center Theater, located on Northwest 37th Street at the east end of the dam. Go here for a map (PDF).

This Saturday, June 14, Ron De Armond, founder and chief executive of the Pella Wildlife Company and Academy of Wildlife Education, will speak on “Will Wolves Return to Iowa?” The next lecture is July 12, when Paul Frese from the Iowa Department of Natural Resources’ Boone Wildlife Research Station will address “The World Underground – A Look at Life Under our Feet.”

The last two talks will follow on July 19 when Steven Spangler, University of Iowa physics and astronomy professor, speaks about “Our Sun: A Star in the Solar System,” and July 26, when Mathew Hill, archaeologist and associate professor of anthropology at Iowa State University, addresses “Ice Age Peopling of the Americas: The Carlisle Cache on the Des Moines River.”

All the talks are listed as appropriate for all ages except Hill’s, which is aimed at ages 10 to adult.

The other series has a longer history. Almost since it was built in 1920 and 1921, the Drake Municipal Observatory on the Waveland Golf Course in Des Moines has hosted lectures, part of the deal between the university and the city that led to its construction. The lectures are on Friday nights all year except winter.

Just seeing the observatory, built in a gorgeous classical revival style with Egyptian details, is worth the visit. The main telescope, inside the patinated dome, is the original put in place when it opened and dates to 1894. It’s still in use and if you’re lucky you can peek through it after the lecture. Other scopes usually are set up on the observatory roof for post-lecture viewing.

"Gort! Klaatu barada nikto!"

From 1951’s “The Day the Earth Stood Still,” produced by 20th Century Fox. Credit: x-ray delta one via photopin cc

This summer’s talks seem to be on a science fiction theme. You’ve missed the first, “Legends and Tall Tales,” but the next on Friday, June 13, sounds terrific, especially if you’ve ever seen the 1951 movie “The Day the Earth Stood Still.” (Forget about the catastrophic 2008 remake.) It’s titled KLAATU BARADA NIKTO.”

To get to the observatory, take Observatory Road west off of Polk Boulevard. Programs start late – at 9 p.m., so the skies are dark – so put the kids in their jammies first.

Finally, a tip of the hat to the Williamsburg Robotic Raiders FIRST LEGO League team. Last week the team travelled to Alexandria, Virginia to pick up second place for the competition’s Global Innovation Award.

Smiling Robotics Raiders team members and coaches.

The Williamsburg Robotic Raiders and coaches. Photo courtesy ISU Extension Service

An Iowa State University release says the team’s solution to the “Nature’s Fury” challenge was “Cyclone Survivor,” a board game designed to teach kids how to prepare for and survive a tornado. The game has a provisional patent and the team’s award includes $5,000 to develop the idea further.

Team members include Eli and Tanner Berger, Clint Jones, Nick Marovets Mitchell Miner, Jacob Mohr, Nick Rotter, and Kaiden Royster. The coaches are parents Laura Miner and Shelley Berger and Iowa County 4-H Youth Coordinator Mary Veatch.

Iowa teams have a terrific record in the Global Innovation contest. In 2011, the Flying Monkeys of Ames won it all. Last year the Robodogs of Bettendorf had a shot at it.

My team, Delta Omega of Urbandale, didn’t come close, but the guys had a blast.

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