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Getting scientific, down at the mill

Getting scientific, down at the mill
HARRY & LINDA KAYE PEREZ The Hill Country Science Mill’s exterior, combining its rustic origins with modern additions, belies the cutting-edge, eye-popping, mind-boggling exhibits within this converted grain mill in Johnson City

On the corner of U.S. 290 and Lady Bird Lane in the heart of Johnson City, is a beautiful building with a unique twist; it is both modern and rustic. It began in 1880 as a gristmill and cotton gin. In 1901, it was retrofitted to a flourmill and finally to a feed mill, that remained operational over 50 years. After the feed mill closed in 1980, the iconic landmark was converted to a restaurant and entertainment complex, but it also closed.

Now, it has a new purpose!

The Hill Country Science Mill is the brainchild of Bonnie Baskin, Ph.D., 
and Robert P. Elde, Ph.D., both career scientists, who realized our workforce would need to be better educated in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM), and that it had to begin with our children. In August 2012, they purchased the old feed mill property and the Hill Country Science Mill was born. The goal is to inspire today’s youth to discover scientific and technical principles and open young minds to careers in science. The Science Mill opened on Feb. 14, 2015.

Incorporating the old grain silos and other parts of the original mill into the new facility was amazingly innovative. The silos can be entered from the main building and create eye-popping exhibits. The Cell Phone Disco encourages students to use their cell phone to call or text someone. LED lights on a 40-foot high wall dance as the invisible electromagnetic waves bounce round inside the silo. When you walk into the Story of Water silo, you can hear people talking, but you don’t know where the voices are coming from. Look up and it appears you are looking through water at a group of people looking down at you and explaining how the Edwards Aquifer works. At the IGlobe exhibit, students can order up a hurricane and watch it develop and move across the United States from outer space.

Learning through fun

Students discover scientific and technical principles relevant to their everyday lives in an environment where they can explore, question and discover. Every visit begins with an Avatar Passport. Each student creates a customized avatar by answering a few basic questions, including name, birthday, and eye color. The student can also choose English or Spanish. An avatar will be the tour guide throughout the visit to the Science Mill. Even after leaving the Science Mill, the student can still learn more about each exhibit visited by signing onto the Explorer Zone at the Science Mill website with their own avatar.

There are a total of 35 hands-on exhibits and interactive activities, including Critter Bots, Create an Explosion (who doesn’t like to blow things up?), and even the Giant Lever, a tug-of-war game.

The Science Mill also offers Summer Camps in variety of subjects.

Bio-Technology Camp: learn to decode the secrets of DNA, solve a crime using DNA fingerprints, and examine mutant worms and what causes their crazy behavior.

Shooting for the Stars Camp: design, built, test and launch a rocket.

SCI Camp: learn what it’s like to be a forensic scientist, a storm tracker, or a brain scientist.

Included in admission to the Science Mill is a 3D movie. Now showing is a 21-minute presentation of “The Great White Shark” a creature that has been misrepresented, maligned, feared, and on the verge of extinction.

Plan a trip

The Science Mill welcomes school field trips. At least one adult per five students for elementary classes, and one adult per 10 students for middle and high school classes is required. Field trips are $6 per student. A picnic area or classroom in inclement weather... is provided for bag lunches from home; for an additional $4 per head, boxed lunches can be ordered from the Lady Bird Lane Café.

Field trips usually last from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. The Science Mill provides pre-field trip and post-field trip lesson plans for classes to complete in preparation for their visit.

Note: The Science Mill is completely booked for these field trips through spring 2015; they will be accepting reservations for the 2015-16 school year beginning in August.

And there’s moreé

Attached to the Science Mill is the Lady Bird Lane Café. This small farm-to-table restaurant offers soups, salad, sandwiches, flat bread, and desserts. It focuses on organic and all-natural ingredients and everything is made from scratch.

The Science Mill has a wonderful website listing everything you need to know about admissions, hours of operation, field trips, and even birthday parties. Their website sums it up best: “The Hill Country 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.”

The 80-mile drive to Johnson City from La Vernia will be a pleasant and quiet ride, with bluebonnets and Indian paintbrushes lining the roadways. But be prepared, the ride back will not be so quiet you probably will not be able to get a word in edgewise!

Harry and Linda Kaye Perez are freelance writers from just down the road from Floresville. Together they share a passion for traveling and writing, and discovering the very best in all corners of the world. Email them at Harry-Linda411@att.net.

Find out more

Hill Country Science Mill

101 S. Lady Bird Lane

Johnson City, TX 78636

844-263-6405, ext. 1005


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