Amazing Axolotls Help Scientists Understand Limb Regeneration


Axl Rose, Xotica, and Xavier, the Science Mill’s weirdly adorable axolotls, are scientific marvels.

While most salamanders develop lungs and grow up to become land dwellers, axolotls do things a bit differently. Axolotls exhibit a trait called neoteny, meaning they retain some juvenile characteristics throughout their entire lives. Because they never develop lungs, and instead keep their gills, axolotls are permanent under-water residents.

Even more amazing, axolotls can regenerate limbs and organs perfectly, without any scarring. They can do this as many times as necessary in as little as three weeks. Salamander’s Genome Guards Secrets of Limb Regrowth, an article by Elizabeth Preston for Quanta Magazine, explains why this regeneration is so impressive and important.

Salamanders are champions at regenerating lost body parts. A flatworm called a planarian can grow back its entire body from a speck of tissue, but it is a very small, simple creature. Zebra fish can regrow their tails throughout their lives. Humans, along with other mammals, can regenerate lost limb buds as embryos. As young children, we can regrow our fingertips; mice can still do this as adults. But salamanders stand out as the only vertebrates that can replace complex body parts that are lost at any age, which is why researchers seeking answers about regeneration have so often turned to them.

Humans and axolotls have more in common than you may think at first glance. No, we don’t have gills - much less gills on the outsides of our heads like wispy antennae - nor do we retain juvenile characteristics our entire lives. But as Preston writes, what we do share matters a lot to scientific research, especially now that labs have hurdled decoding the axolotl genome.

The main problem with the axolotl genome is that it’s enormous. It has 32 billion base pairs, making it about 10 times longer than the human genome. Despite that, axolotls and humans seem to have a similar number of genes, said Elly Tanaka, a biologist at the Research Institute of Molecular Pathology in Vienna

Read the entire article here, and be sure to stop by the Axolotl Exhibit next time you visit us!

And the Award Goes to... Our Unique Building


The Science Mill was recently selected as a recipient of a 2018 AIA Minneapolis Merit Award. The award recognizes projects that tell a story of excellence beyond design; emphasize public interest design; and embrace the varied forces that shape a building.

The Science Mill, which opened in 2015, re-imagines a community landmark – a historic feed mill built in 1880 as a steam gristmill and cotton gin – into a gathering place for the community and a forum for science exploration. Tom DeAngelo, FAIA, LEED AP, principal at Alliiance, a firm based in Minneapolis, led the architectural design of the nonprofit museum. 

“We are thrilled to receive this award. It recognizes our belief that the museum needed to be a  part of the existing community”  says Science Mill founder and president Bonnie Baskin, who moved to Johnson City from Minneapolis in 2011 with her husband Bob Elde. 

The Science Mill’s architectural design involved retaining and renovating the original mill buildings and grain silos, which now house cutting-edge, interactive science exhibits. A new addition near the center of the site and the southern end of the historic mill created a nexus that physically links the separate buildings together to create an environment for science discovery. 

“The design was conceived not as a contrast between new and old but as the dynamic evolution of the mill from a place of industrial production to a place that can produce science leaders for a new generation,” says architect Tom DeAngelo.

In addition to the Merit Award, the Science Mill received the honor of being selected for the 2018 Michael L. Schrock Award of Distinction, an additional honor awarded to the project that most embodies Michael's 7 Rules of Architecture:

1.    Know where you are from.

2.    Know who you are.

3.    Know why you are.

4.    Respect your benefactors.

5.    Honor the environment.

6.    Architecture must serve those who occupy it.

7.  There is beauty in functional, economical, safe, environmentally responsible, owner-driven architecture.

Zip Away to Summer!

Before you and your students head to the theme park on your summer vacation, discover how engineers employ key physics concepts, like gravity, friction, inertia, mass, slope and force to design and create thrilling rides. With just a few affordable, easy to find materials, students can build functional zip lines for their ping-pong ball passengers!

Click here for the Science Mill's scalable K-12 curriculum for a Zip Away activity based on this project from PBS Kids.

Science Mill Donors Help Students Dream Big in STEM

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Dream big.  Those two words hold such great promise. But how can students, especially those in rural communities, connect the dots between dreaming big and a successful career?   

Fortunately, the Science Mill museum which opened in Johnson City in 2015, is inspiring more and more students living in small Texas Hill Country towns to see themselves as part of a 21st century workforce in science, technology, engineering, and math.  

And generous donors are stepping up to make sure under-privileged students in the Hill Country have access to the out-of-school STEM enrichment offered by the Science Mill through field trips, STEM immersion camps and visits to the museum.

In the spirit of paying-it-forward, one such donor, Charlie Shaw along with his wife Mary, recently made it possible for 10 area families to each receive a free one-year membership at the Science Mill. Charlie knows from personal experience what a difference a science center can make to an impoverished child.  Growing up in Gulfport, FL, in the 1960s with limited resources, he attended classes after school and summers at the local science center. 

“I’ve been interested in batteries and light bulbs as long as I can remember.  My father used to say I learned to read by studying mail order electronics catalogs,” Shaw said. “I studied electronics at our science center for three years while I was in elementary school and then continued taking classes there through high school.”

Shaw said the Science Mill reminds him of the science center that helped set him on the path to becoming a scientist. “The Science Mill is a teaching science center. An emphasis on special programs with expert presenters sets it apart.  Staff members who assist visitors are well trained and knowledgeable too.”

Today, Charlie is a successful master fabricator and his company, CW Shaw, Inc., has fabricated and provided design expertise for many large-scale, award-winning, internationally recognized projects. His company built the Race Track exhibit, the Giant Lever exhibit, the Create an Explosion exhibit and the Sailboat exhibit for the Science Mill.

To help more students dream big in STEM through a donation, please contact Holly Barton, Director of Operations at the Science Mill by calling 844-263-6405, extension 1002 or at The Science Mill is located at 101 S Ladybird Lane in Johnson City, Texas.