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Johnson City's Science Mill: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Johnson City's Science Mill: Honoring the Past, Inspiring the Future

Our family was recently invited to attend an event at the Science Mill in Johnson City.  The Science Mill was on our spring break bucket list this year, but we just simply had too many things on that list and we weren’t able to make it.  So, we were super excited to finally get to check it out!  What is it exactly?  Well,

“The Science Mill is a family destination offering a fun, interactive learning environment for all ages. Through cutting-edge technology-based exhibits, games, and programs, the Science Mill expands students' understanding and appreciation of science in their everyday lives. By igniting their curiosity and inspiring them to pursue post-secondary education, the Science Mill experience starts students on the path to a life-long career in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM).” (source)

 Image courtesy of the  Science Mill

Image courtesy of the Science Mill

So, it's a STEM-based, non-profit science museum that’s primarily intended for kids in third through ninth grade, though our young kids were perfectly able to enjoy the exhibits with our help.  One of the best things about the Science Mill is that they offer summer camps and special events that are fun and career-focused, to encourage the growth of your little future-scientists-in-the-making.  AND these camps are not only offered at the Science Mill, but also on-site in under-served areas of San Antonio, Austin, and elsewhere in the Hill Country.  They literally take the science to the kids who can’t get there themselves and, in those instances, they do it mostly on scholarship…meaning, it’s FREE.  To date, over 400 kids have attended a Science Mill camp on full scholarship.

 Image courtesy of the  Science Mill

Image courtesy of the Science Mill

So how was our experience? 

The drive there was a Hill Country day trip at its best (about an hour from downtown Boerne); a nice reminder of how much we love Sisterdale and the drive down Luckenback Road.  When we arrived, there was plenty of parking along the front of the museum on Lady Bird Lane, along the side of the museum, and in back.  The entrance was clearly marked, and the admissions desk is directly in front of you when you walk in.  There’s no getting lost here!

At the entrance to the museum, there’s a small gift shop full of educational toys and games for the kiddos to take home.  There are also kiosks, so they can create their own avatars that are linked to QR codes, which they wear around their necks.  They use their QR code necklace to “check-in” to the different exhibits and earn badges for completing them.  My six-year-old really enjoyed doing this.  My three-year-old, however, wasn’t as interested in the checking-in part but did enjoy making his avatar. 

We spent the first part of our day exploring the indoor exhibits.  A few of our favorites were:

Cell Phone Disco which converts the electromagnetic waves from your cell phone into visible light and “transform(s) an entire silo into a dazzling light show”. (source)

 cell phone disco exhibit science mill johnson city texas

Critter Bots which uses basic coding skills to manipulate the movements of a robotic longhorn, snake, and armadillo.  Our Big Girl took a coding class over spring break, so she was especially excited to try her skills and loved seeing the cause and effect of the coding creating movement for the robots! 

 critter bots exhibit science mill johnson city texas

Dig In! which uses real sand and augmented reality to create a topographic representation of hills, mountains, rivers, and even rain that you create yourself!

 dig in! exhibit at science mill johnson city texas

And the axolotls which are water creatures that “exhibit a trait called neoteny. This means that they retain their juvenile characteristics such as their gills, tails, and fins into adulthood.” (source)

 Image courtesy of the  Science Mill

Image courtesy of the Science Mill

There are so many other wonderful exhibits though…we certainly didn’t get to (or get pictures of) all of them.  Here are a few from the Science Mill website:

There’s also an indoor toddler play space, restrooms (including a family restroom with changing table), 3-D theater, and restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating and booster seats…you know, all the things that make this mama happy. 😊

(playspace and theater photos courtesy of the Science Mill)

Outside, we met the museum's new African Spurred Tortoises and got friendly with the butterflies.  You can help feed the tortoises every Saturday and Sunday afternoon at 2:15.  And we were told that one of them laid eggs recently, so you may be able to see babies later this summer!

The kids (and my husband) had so much fun manipulating the Colossal Robotic Hand, which stands 30-feet-tall and is controlled by a joystick in the shape of a smaller version of the hand.

 science mill johnson city texas colossal robotic hand exhibit

Our other favorite outdoor exhibits were the Incredible Ball Machine, which allows you to “Step inside and surround yourself with a maze of ball chutes and loop de loops. As you try each pulley, pedal and wheel explore how gravity, velocity, and acceleration all affect the ball's trajectory. Navigate a giant labyrinth, create musical stylings in the sound garden, flip and teeter your ball on the kinetic seesaw and so much more!” (source)

And the giant Wave Pendulum

 science mill johnson city texas wave pendulum exhibit

It was nice to also find shaded picnic tables and an area with giant foam blocks for the kiddos to use their imaginations and create to their heart’s content (blocks photo courtesy of Science Mill)!

And can we talk for just a minute about the design of this place?  Being a bit of a Hill Country history nerd and a definite design enthusiast, I thoroughly enjoyed the rustic industrial atmosphere of the building.  The exposed rock, timber beams, full-wall windowed hallway, and metal silos that were preserved from the building’s days as a feed mill and cotton gin were a joy to discover.  The Science Mill website states that “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 the new generation.” (source)

There is also no shortage of beautiful and interesting artwork to be found.  Of course, such exhibits as the Colossal Robotic Hand and Wave Pendulum are oversized pieces of art in their own right, but you'll also notice sculptural pieces created from upcycled trash, a full-wall mural on the exterior of the 3-D theater, and more.

It was reiterated time and time again by the friendly staff at the Science Mill that the idea behind its creation was simple: to take one of the most technologically advanced facilities of its time and bring new life to it by filling it with the technology of this day and age.  All in an effort to create a love for science and future generations of leaders in STEM career fields:  honoring the past while inspiring the future.

So what sort of fun and inspirational events and activities can your kids experience at the Science Mill this summer?  Scavenger Hunts, Trash to Treasure art classes, exploring the power of the sun with Solar Art, learning all about sharks (and digging for shark teeth!) during Shark Week, and more!  Find the full schedule of upcoming events HERE.

You’ll find the Science Mill at 101 S. Lady Bird Lane in Johnson City.  The museum is open Wed-Sat, 10:00-4:00 and Sunday 12:00-4:00.  They will be open this Monday, 5/28, from 10:00-4:00 for Memorial Day fun.  Starting June 13th, the museum will be open until 5:00 for summer.  You can find rates (including field trip and group rates) HERE.  Go, explore, and HAVE FUN.  We sure did!

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NOTE: Our family received free admission and refreshments at this event.  However, all content and opinions are my own, unless otherwise stated.

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