ACC faculty launch area’s first science museum


Dr. Ron Johns and Torvald Hessel have launched the Texas Museum of Science and Technology, which currently features the acclaimed touring exhibit “Body Worlds & the Cycle of Life.”

While Austin may be known as a highly educated city and high-tech hub, the city has lacked one particular feature that most of its peer communities have: a dedicated science museum.

Two Austin Community College faculty members are changing that. As founders of the Texas Museum of Science and Technology, or TXMOST, Torvald Hessel, adjunct professor of astronomy, and Dr. Ron Johns, professor of geology and assistant dean of assessment, are using their passion for science and education to create a new avenue of learning for adults and students of all ages.

Since opening in March in its temporary Cedar Park location, the museum has received almost 30,000 visitors to view “Body Worlds & the Cycle of Life,” the acclaimed touring exhibition that uses preserved bodies to teach anatomy, physiology, and health.

“All of a sudden we have proven ourselves to some extent,” says Hessel, the museum’s executive director. Adds Johns, “It’s not just pie-in-the-sky – it’s concrete.”

The two have been pursuing their vision since 2003, when Hessel, a native of the Netherlands, connected with Larry Forrest, the late Glass Mountain Optics founder who wanted to bring a planetarium to the city.

Hessel, who worked at the Artis Planetarium of Amsterdam while earning a master’s degree in astrophysics, shared his interest and offered valuable expertise and experience. Johns came on board, and the three incorporated as the Austin Planetarium in 2003.

They ultimately decided to broaden their plans and create a full-spectrum interactive science museum with exhibits in astronomy, geology, physics, biology, and cutting-edge technology under one roof.

“It doesn’t happen often like this,” says Hessel. “Usually it’s a government body or educational institution that tries to build a museum. We’re a grassroots organization.”

But while visitors now are lining up at the door, the work is far from complete. The professors and fellow museum board members still plan to install a planetarium by the end of the year. More than 100,000 students have visited their mobile planetarium.

They continue to look for permanent home and new exhibits, a process that has them walking a line between offering a great experience and compelling people to see the potential for more.

Meanwhile, the feedback they get from the continuous flow of schoolchildren and other visitors through the museum makes their efforts worthwhile.

“That is still the most touching,” Hessel says. “We have people thanking us, saying, ‘We’re so happy that you have spent the time to bring it this far.’”

Visit the TXMOST website to learn more about the museum.

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