One Wednesday last September, four buses from Boerne Middle School North pulled up to the Science Mill in the heart of Johnson City. One hundred and fifty sixth graders bounded into the museum, a former 1800s grist mill on the corner of South Lady Bird Lane and Main Street. Some raced to see the zebrafish and African spurred tortoises. Others squealed en route to the Colossal Robotic Hand, a 26-foot-tall appendage equipped with a remote joystick to manipulate its gigantic fingers. The Fossil Dig drew a big crowd outdoors, as 12-year-old paleontologists unearthed stories of plants and animals that lived 70 million years ago.
Every inch of this wacky wonderland exposes young minds to big ideas in engineering and earth, energy, computer, and life-science. “We thought that those were broad subjects and that many disciplines would fall within them,” says Holly Barton, BS ’02, Life Member, the museum’s director of strategic alignment and a founding staff member.
The sleepy Hill Country may seem an unlikely place to host such a bustling hub of scientific activity. Yet the location appealed to the museum’s creator, Bonnie Baskin, a microbiologist and entrepreneur who moved to Johnson City from Minnesota in 2010. When Baskin noticed the derelict feed mill for sale on Highway 290 in 2012, she bought it. She wanted to build a place where kids from small towns could learn about careers in science, technology, engineering, and math. Johnson City had a dearth of STEM programs for local students and was also accessible to schools in Austin, Fredericksburg, San Antonio, and Dallas. Baskin especially liked the idea of springing a science mecca from the mill, a landmark that was once owned by Lyndon Baines Johnson’s uncle, James Polk Johnson.