For more than 130 years a mill has been a landmark of the Johnson City community. It’s served as a steam grist mill, cotton gin, feed mill and even a restaurant. But it was vacant for a while, until its latest tenant moved in: a science museum.
Bonnie Baskin founded the Science Mill with her husband.
“It’s a variety of different exhibits. This is an ecosystem it’s called a paludarium – it’s a combination of a terrarium and an aquarium,” Baskin says.
They were both scientists in Minnesota and when they retired to the Hill Country, they decided to explore another passion.
“We had been talking for years about our concern about the lack of interest in kids in science. When we grew up, there was no greater aspiration than to be a scientist,” Baskin says.
One solution to that problem? A hands-on introduction to science: from creating an interactive periodic table to exploring circuits with a piano that’s hooked up with bananas as keys.
There are activities simple enough for little ones to enjoy, but Baskin says the Science Mill’s real focus is engaging middle schoolers.
“Those are the times when kids pretty much start to make a decision if they’re interested in science and become prepared for going on in post-secondary education,” she says.
That’s right, getting kids 11 to 14 thinking about college. And beyond that: careers!
“If they’re interested they can click it as a favorite and then when they go back home they can go online and begin to learn more about the exhibit and then also we have a listing of all of the area two and four-year colleges, universities that have degree programs that relate to that particular exhibit,” Baskin says. “So if they like the engineering exhibit, they see where they can get an education that will allow them to be an engineer.”
Celeste Vige is an eight-year-old visitor at the museum.
“If you hold your hand over it, you can create a storm and it looks like sand is falling,” Vige says.
Vige is quite a bit younger than the Science Mill’s target demographic. But the museum’s mission is still sinking in. She says, yes, she’d like to be a scientist someday.
“Like a scientist that studies plants,” Vige says.
Her dad Beaux doesn’t think that’s a bad plan.
“Yeah, absolutely. As of just now, it’s either biologist or hairdresser,” he says.
As Baskin and I continue our tour we pass several old silos transformed into displays including a huge tower that lights up in response to cell phone waves and a game where participants control a ball with their brains.
But don’t worry if Baskin isn’t available to give you a personal tour of the Science Mill. Each visitor creates their own 3D cartoon avatar that follows them through.