Jill Katzenberger works on a project at The Hopper in Boulder on Wednesday. A new “museum” or playground of discovery to showcase emerging technology will open next year. (Photo by Cliff Grassmick/Staff Photographer)

Kristin Lawrence is a scientist, and she wants kids and families to explore science and technology in a fun environment she’s working to create.

Lawrence is CEO and founder of The Hopper, a science discovery playground. 

After moving in 2015 from the San Francisco Bay area to Boulder for its less hectic lifestyle, Lawrence said she began thinking about a way to make science and discovery accessible to all. Her childhood experience in her basement, where she discovered science thanks to her father, became her inspiration to create The Hopper, she said.

“My father was a high school teacher,” said Lawrence, who taught planetary geophysics at Stanford University for four years.

It took her four years to develop and shape the hybrid business model (with a for-profit and a nonprofit structure) after extensive travels across the globe and getting input from community members.

“We needed to validate the business model,” she said.

The Hopper will open at the end of 2020 at its new home at 2525 Frontier Ave., an accessible location for all, according to Lawrence. The site plans recently were approved by the Boulder Planning Board. City documents described The Hopper as a 13,975-square-foot science, technology engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) museum and “family focused scientific experimental and interactive facility with an accessory meeting space and food service.”

Lawrence calls The Hopper a space to explore, experience, connect and learn in an environment without the fear of failure. It’s a family gathering spot to provide a fulfilling experience, she said. There aren’t many gathering spaces in Boulder for families, she said.

She plans to remodel the space and is looking for investor support The Hopper, which continues to engage with the community. Going forward The Hopper’s focus will be on developing the building, and less on public outreach, she said.

Lawrence and her multidisciplinary team have been active in community outreach participating in educational events such as Super Science Saturday, University of Colorado Boulder Science Discovery programs, and Rocky Mountain STEAM Fests.

“We have also participated in the Girls & Science event at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science.,” Lawrence said.

The Hopper team’s hands-on, open-ended activities have been popular at the Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest, both in 2017 and 2019. Its “Egg Drop Challenge” was particularly well-received, she said.

“The Hopper team are experts at building interactive science and arts installations that are appropriate for our audience, are fun, and have an educational component,” said Martha Lanaghen, executive director and co-founder, MakerBolder and Rocky Mountain STEAM Fest. MakerBolder is a Boulder-based nonprofit bringing science and arts experiences to the community.

“The Hopper as it is conceived, will be unlike anything you’ve seen before — just like Meow Wolf has become a destination in New Mexico, it’s conceivable that The Hopper will become an attraction in Boulder that brings events, celebrity educators and families from across the country to our community so they can enjoy the experience first-hand,” Lanaghen said.

She said she thinks The Hopper will complement the Museum of Boulder.

“A rising tide raises all boats,” Lanaghen said.

John Tayer, president and CEO of the Boulder Chamber, echoed Lanaghen sentiments. The Hopper will offer a great opportunity to families and children to express their innovation skills and creativity, he said.

“It’s a perfect match for our community,” Tayer said.

Boulder’s great educational system that encourages innovation and public facilities that provide outlets for creativity, combined with The Hopper’s playful, imaginative  environment will provide a great synergy, Tayer said.

“Boulder continues to be on the cutting edge of technology and education that makes Boulder such an attractive community for businesses and residents,” he said.

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