Gateway to Science

Audra and Axel Ohman explore the Water Play gallery. Photo by NDAREC/John Kary

Gateway to Science
Gateway to Science
Gateway to Science
Gateway to Science
Gateway to Science

Curiosity captured Chris Riedman with each trip to Gateway to Science. As a toddler, he visited there often with his mother, Karol, who served on the board of this volunteer venture.Gateway to Science logo

As he grew older, his interest grew, too.

“From bubbles to slime to planets and rockets, I loved volunteering when I was old enough, and I always wanted to stay involved,” he says.

From taking part in science camps to now serving as vice president, Chris remains inspired by the place that first connected him to the wonders of science, North Dakota’s Gateway to Science (NDGTS).

Located on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River in Bismarck, NDGTS opened its new 43,000-square-foot facility in March. The new gallery is more than five times larger than its former space and includes exhibits featuring energy, agriculture, health care, transportation, water, weather and engineering.

The idea for a science center came from Frank Koch, a chemistry professor at Bismarck State College. His passion for science led him to host a weekend chemistry event at Gateway Mall in Bismarck. As it began to draw more people, he imagined something bigger, and shared his vision with the Junior Service League (JSL).

“At that time, JSL kickstarted projects, like the Ronald McDonald House and Sleepy Hollow Summer Theatre,” says Beth Demke, executive director of NDGTS and former JSL president (the JSL has since disbanded).

Working with volunteers, Koch and Demke opened the first year-round science center at the mall in November 1994. The space allowed them to test the concept of a standalone science center.

Soon, a group of volunteers began working to make the dream a reality. Plans developed and funding was sought. Input gathered from local experts, educators, members and stakeholders emphasized exhibits needed to focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) education and displays should connect to North Dakota science.

Next came gallery development, which involved the Science Museum of Minnesota, Blue Rhino Studios, Chaos Theory and Boss Display.

“We put a lot of thought into the concepts for each gallery,” says Kim Eslinger, gallery and exhibits director at NDGTS. “Many exhibits and displays here are unique and designed for this facility as they relate to our industries.”

In addition to the galleries, the center includes two indoor classrooms and an outdoor learning area, which will be utilized for workshops, afterschool clubs and summer camps. NDGTS also offers educational outreach programs called STEMzone events, which aim to reach rural and underrepresented communities in North Dakota. A mobile science van travels to schools, community centers and events to provide K-12 students with science education. And virtual and in-person workshops engage students in hands-on, high-energy learning experiences in STEM.

Koch is also honored and remembered in the new building’s education wing with the Frank Koch Lab.

“Frank Koch dreamed of a place where children could discover and explore the world of science. I think if Frank were with us today, he would agree – this is that place,” Demke says.

More than 25,000 people visited the science center in its first six weeks of operation. With exhibits to touch and discover, it is an educational, entertaining experience for visitors of all ages.

“Since the early years, my whole family has stayed involved and supported its mission,” Chris says. “Now I have the joy of bringing my daughter, Margaret, to the science center, like my parents did with me. It is a lifelong adventure that will impact families and the community well into the future.”

To learn more about the center, visit

Clarice L. Kesler is communications manager for the N.D. Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives. She can be reached at


The 7,800-square-foot second floor of North Dakota’s Gateway to Science features an innovation and maker space. Here, community members can design, prototype and create products. It features movable tables and chairs, consumables and a large-format 3D printer.
Premiere sponsors include Basin Electric Power Cooperative, Minnkota Power Cooperative and Great River Energy.


North Dakota’s Gateway to Science exhibits and events align with state and national science standards, and build on the teaching students get at their local schools. The STEM-inspired galleries include:
• Examining You – How the body functions under different conditions and the brain’s role in how we perceive the world.

• Forces in Motion – A dynamic array of machines and devices to discover the relationship between physics, engineering and our own ingenuity.

• Growing Science – Showcases agriculture and its essential role in raising crops and livestock to feed the world’s growing population.

• Keep It Moving – Highlights transportation and how to design better, faster, more efficient ways to keep things moving.

• Science First – A place for young children to develop observational, thinking and language skills, social and emotional intelligence, motor skills and self-awareness.

• Sun, Earth, Universe – Explores space subjects, designing and building model spacecraft, and thinking critically to examine data from Earth and beyond.

• Transforming Energy – Involves visitors in various energy-related subjects, processes and concepts, from energy physics to exploring and generating traditional and alternative energy sources.

• Water Play – How water flows and behaves under pressure, how it is managed and used, and how objects float and move through it.

• Weather All Around Us – Be a North Dakota TV meteorologist, staff a weather monitoring station, create a cloud and plant trees to mitigate the effect of wind on a farm.

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