“Our goal is to plant the seeds of curiosity in kids.”
You wouldn’t normally expect a small town with a population of just over 1,600 to be home to one of the most innovative science museums in the state. But the Science Mill is a gem smack dab in the middle of the Hill Country in Johnson City, TX.
Built in 1880 as a steam grist mill and cotton gin, converted to a flour mill and eventually into a feed mill, the silos that dot the intersection at Highway 290 and Lady Bird Lane have been a landmark in Johnson City for more than a century.
Founders Bonnie Baskin and her husband, Bob Elde, have painstakingly maintained the integrity of the original structure, preserving each stage of the evolution of the mill (including the original silos). Baskin, founder of two biotech companies, and Elde, retired Dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the University of Minnesota, are passionate about bringing science education and opportunity to children.
My family and I took the beautiful road trip from Round Rock to Johnson City to see all the new exhibits that have opened since our last visit. We were excited to find several we hadn’t seen before such as the Fossil Dig, the interactive Incredible Ball Machine and of course, the Colossal Robotic Hand. Baskin recently purchased six adjoining acres west of the museum on 290, so there will be room to expand the outdoor features.
I talked with Baskin to learn more about the Science Mill:
What was the original vision for the Science Mill?
I wanted kids to have the opportunity to experience and understand what STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) is and expose them to STEM career options. So many kids in rural or underserved communities don’t have family members in a STEM career, so they don’t even know what it is.
Although the Science Mill is wonderful for children of all ages, we are uniquely focused on middle school-aged kids. Middle school is a watershed time, especially for girls. Our goal is to plant the seeds of curiosity in kids.
When you bill yourself as a cutting edge science and technology museum, you always have to evolve because technology is always changing!
Talk about one of the newest exhibits, the Colossal Robotic Hand.
The hand was built by an in-house creative director, who has done several of the museum’s exhibits. It’s a 30-ft tall stainless steel structure that required 500+ individual pieces of steel. Without science and engineers it couldn’t have been built. It is truly the intersection of robotics and art.
Discuss the summer camps available.
There are 20 camps throughout the area, including camps in Johnson City, Austin, San Antonio and the rural Hill Country. All are staffed by in-house educators. Instructors are middle school science teachers from the community, and teaching assistants are grad school or college students. The focus is to engage kids in knowledge and grow their confidence. Each day of the week-long camp focuses on a specific career like biologist, chief tech officer, etc.
How has the Science Mill become a fixture of the Johnson City community?
Many in the community were skeptical in the beginning, but the community has embraced the Science Mill now. I hear it referred to as “our science museum” by the locals. It adds vibrancy to the community.
The Science Mill is open Wed-Sat from 10am-5pm and on Sundays from 12-5pm. Check the website for information on special events and summer camps. Cover image courtesy photo