Husband and wife team Bob Elde and Bonnie Baskin love science. They’ve made lifelong careers out of it. She as the CEO of two bio technology companies — ViroMed Laboratories Inc. and AppTec Laboratory Services Inc.; he as the former dean of the college of biological sciences at the University of Minnesota. They want more kids to go into science and know that science careers go beyond doctors and veterinarians. That is their mission behind the new Hill Country Science Mill, which opened earlier this month.
When they came down to the Hill Country in 2009 for a visit, they fell in love with the land. They bought a piece of property west of Johnson City and built their retirement home. Then they found an old 1880s grist mill in the heart of Johnson City and bought it in October 2012. “Even thought it was falling apart, to us it looked like it was a science experiment. It had all different parts added on over time,” Baskin says.
They bought it and turned the old science experiment into a new science experiment. They researched other science museums, but ultimately developed many of the exhibits specifically for this site and this mission.
“We’re introducing them to science and how it relates to a career,” she says. “How can you make the next step? It’s more than an arcade of science here. It’s all the things you can do.”
When you enter the mill, you get an avatar passport. At each exhibit, you can use your passport to check in and find out more about the exhibit. You then can mark that exhibit a favorite. After your visit, you can go to the museum’s website, sciencemill.org, and find out more about the science behind the exhibits and the science, technology, engineering and math careers that relate to that exhibit.
“You can’t just hit a kid once with an interest in science,” Baskin says. “You have to follow an interest and shape it.”
The exhibits are varied. In one of the first grain towers, you can use your cellphone to illuminate lights based on the strength of the electromagnetic waves in the signal your cellphone is sending.
Another tower has an art installation of a glowing Romanesco broccoli, which has recurring fractal shapes. There you can learn about other fractals in nature.
A third tower puts you at the bottom of a cave in the aquifer, and you learn the story of water as one drop makes its way down to you.
Two other towers will be filled with exhibits eventually, and you’ll enter those from outside.
Like the Fractalarium, some of the science is shown in art. You can watch a wall installation of different animals at flight and the different ways their wings move.
Other exhibits use living things. A paludarium of plants and animals shows how an ecosystem works. In the BioLab you can watch different stages of zebra fish and see how their DNA has been manipulated to create GloFish. You can look at a pile of mud and see the ecosystem that is forming within it.
A lot of the exhibits use computer technology. Dig-In is a computerized topographical map on top of a sandbox. You build mountains and valleys and watch the topography lines change with your creation. In the iGlobe, you get to see the Earth from space and watch changes in weather patterns, ocean currents and geological events. You can even track a weather event in real time.
You can perform virtual autopsies using the Virtual Human Body, or solve a DNA mystery in the molecular detective.
In the Energy Game, you choose different scenarios to see how much energy you are using to run a town. Is it a sunny day? Turn on the solar power. Is it windy? Use wind power. What happens when you use only coal or only natural gas?
You can create an explosion in several exhibits. Turn water and electricity into a chemical reaction that will shoot a ping-pong ball into the air. Create a virtual explosion by combining different atoms to form a molecule. Go with the Flow allows you to test out different circuits to perform tasks.
Hill Country Science Mill also has many vehicle activities. You can race sailboats using wind and sails. You can build a car and race it on the electric race track. And for those who love robots, you can control a robotic longhorn or a rattlesnake.
In another game, you and a partner try to move a white ball across the table using your brain signals picked up by a bio-sensor headband.
The museum will supplement these regular exhibits with maker stations. Many of the stations will have try-it-at-home components.
While the museum’s sweet spot is the middle- and high-school age group, there is a toddler play area, and grade-schoolers will not have trouble finding things to do.
The Hill Country Science Mill also has a 3-D theater, a store and a cafeteria, which is open to the public as well as to museum explorers. This summer, the museum also will offer weeklong camps.
Of course, the 21st century science you learned at the museum doesn’t end when you go home. You just go online and find all kinds of links and information your avatar selected for you.
“We’re talking to a lot of kids. What does it mean to be a scientist?” Baskin says. “We’re opening their eyes and introducing them to all the opportunities.”
Hill Country Science Mill
When: 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and noon to 4 p.m. Sunday.
Where: 101 S. Lady Bird Lane, Johnson City.
Admission: $8 for adults, $6.50 for kids ages 2-18 or students with an ID, $6 seniors and military, free for kids younger than 2.
More family things to do this month
“Three Little Pigs.” It’s the classic story as a Broadway musical. $20 adults, $15 children. For ages 3 and up. 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Saturdays through April 25. 2 p.m. and 4:30 p.m. Sundays through March 29. Zach Theatre’s Kleberg Stage, 1421 W. Riverside Drive. zachtheatre.org.
Thinkery workshops: Let’s Pickle: Japanese Style for ages 4-7. 10:30 a.m. Saturday. $39 per child and adult. Advanced Soldering for ages 8 and up, must have taken the Intro to Soldering. 2:30 p.m. Saturday. Paramount Theatre brings “Stella Queen of Snow” to story time for STEAM on the Spot, 10:30 a.m. Saturday. $44 per child and adult. Cooking with Dr. Seuss for ages 4-7. 10:30 a.m. Sunday. $29 per child and adult. Cooking with History, ages 8 and up. 2:30 p.m. March 7. $29 per child and adult. Mini Masterpieces make abstract art for ages 2-4. 10 a.m. March 8. $29 per child and adult. Intro to Woodworking: Bird Houses for ages 7 and up. 2:30 p.m. March 8. $39 per child and adult. Stuffed Animal Reconstruction for ages 7 and up. 10:30 a.m. March 15. $29 per child and adult. Sing, Sign and Explore for ages 2-4. 10:30 a.m. March 29. $29 per child and adult. Thinkery, 1830 Simond Ave. thinkeryaustin.org.
Free First Sundays. Noon to 5 p.m. Sunday. Learn about Texas Independence Day with live music, an art zone, Texas heroes and more. Free. Create Your Own: La Belle Artifacts. 11 a.m. March 16. Free. Exploration Station: Design Your Own Exhibit. 11 a.m. March 17. Free. Exploration Station: Button Making. 11 a.m. March 18. Free. Science Thursday. 10 a.m. March 19. Free. Create Your Own: Navigation Tools. 11 a.m. March 20. Free. Bullock Museum, 1800 N. Congress Ave. thestoryoftexas.com.
ABC Zilker Kite Festival. Fly a kite, plus moon walks, rock-wall climbing, face painting, slot cars and bungee jumping. 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday (rain date is March 8). Free. Zilker Park. abckitefestival.com.
Sprouts. Head to the Wildflower Center at 9:30 a.m. Wednesday and Friday, beginning this Wednesday, through May 29 for a weekly preschool program with story time, nature walk and more. Regular admission fees. Nature Play Hour. Enjoy a guided nature tour and activity at 10 a.m. Saturday March 7-May 30. Wildflower Center, 4801 La Crosse Ave. wildflower.org.
Explore UT. Fossil digs, fossil identification and other free activities will be at the Texas Memorial Museum, 2400 Trinity St. For high school juniors and seniors, find open houses with various activities at the different schools at the University of Texas. In all, more than 400 demonstrations and activities, including a scavenger hunt and walking tours. 11 a.m.-4:45 p.m. March 7. utexas.edu/tmm/events/explore-ut.
Jack Hanna: Into the Wild Live. See some of Jack Hanna’s animal friends. 2 p.m. Sunday. $67-$32. Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave. www.austintheatre.org.
“Stella, Queen of the Snow.” See this book come to life. 2 p.m. March 8. Paramount Theatre, 713 Congress Ave. www.austintheatre.org.
Art Free for All. Enjoy activities including printmaking, kiln-fired pizzas and yoga. Noon-4 p.m. March 14. Free. Laguna Gloria, 3809 W. 35th St. thecontemporaryaustin.org.
76th Annual Star of Texas Fair and Rodeo. The world’s fifth-largest indoor regular-season ProRodeo, plus activities and entertainment. Acts on the lineup this year include Dwight Yoakam, Panic at the Disco, the Beach Boys and Martina McBride. The popular (and free) Cowboy Breakfast is scheduled for March 6 at the Long Center. Prices for the ProRodeo and concerts vary. Gate admission ranges from free for 2 and younger to $8 for adults. Parking $10 per vehicle. March 14-28. Dr. Charles W. Graham Western Heritage Center, 9100 Decker Lake Road, and at the Travis County Expo Center, 7311 Decker Lane. rodeoaustin.com.
Woodland Faerie Trail at Zilker Botanical Garden. Open March 16-May 26. March 21-22, it’s open late until 9 p.m. Free with admission; no registration required. Woodland Faerie Trail by Starlight. Enjoy the trail by starlight with entertainers, music and hot cocoa. 7 p.m. March 20.$6 per person, $7 nonresidents, $15 per family. Zilker Garden Festival 2015. Kids activities will include making your own birdhouse, face painting and making butterfly wings. March 28-29. $8 adults, $4 children, parking $5. Zilker Botanical Garden, 2220 Barton Springs Road. Regular admission: $2 adults, $1 children and seniors, $3 for nonresidents. Cash or check only. zilkergarden.org.
“Jack and the Beanstalk.” The classic tale gets updated. 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. Saturdays, March 21-April 4; 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. March 22 and April 5; and noon March 29. $10 adults, $6 children. Scottish Rite Theater, 207 W. 18th St. scottishritetheater.org.
“Click, Clack, Moo.” See the book come to the stage. Noon March 28. $12 adults, $9 children. One World Theatre, 7701 Bee Cave Road. oneworldtheatre.org.
Ahora sí recommends:
Leer y Crear: Family Story Time. Hear “The Lizard and the Sun” by Alma Flor Ada in English and Spanish. 10:30 a.m. March 14. Free. Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St.
Mini Masterpieces. Make art as a family for ages 5 and up. $12 per parent and child. 1 p.m. March 14. Mexican American Cultural Center, 600 River St. www.austintexas.gov/esbmacc.