Engage Your Brain at the Science Mill

05/30/2017 12:42 pm ET Updated May 30, 2017

Anyone who’s ever driven through the Texas Hill Country knows that it’s an area full of surprises. Hit the road just outside of Austin and you’ll see exotic game ranches, oil derricks, and random BBQ trucks pop up along the highways, much like the wildflowers that also decorate this part of our state. But perhaps the least expected attraction you’ll come across is the Science Mill in Johnson City, Texas.

Located about an hour away from Austin, the Science Mill is housed in an iconic Johnson City feed mill built in 1880. A few years ago, a team of people passionate about growing science leaders for the new generation recycled the historic landmark into a gathering place for the community and a forum for science exploration. And it really is something to see, both inside and out.

The Science Mill is a perfect day trip for families, or anyone who wants to spend a few hours in a fun, interactive learning environment. There are activities suitable for all ages, and their cutting-edge technology-based exhibits, games, and programs, teach science, but not obviously so. Meaning, you’ll be so busy having fun with the hand-on exhibits that you won’t even realize your brain just grew a few sizes. Here’s my son doing some elementary coding to make the Longhorn move.

And here’s a simple, yet educational, exhibit about energy that made me hungry:

The Banana Piano is just one example of how the Science Mill works to show kids to appreciate science in their everyday lives. Their hope is to pique curiosity enough that kids will be inspired to forge a life-long career in STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math.) Full disclosure: upon entering the Science Mill on our recent visit, I had “we’re so not a STEM family” in my head, but I was proven wrong just a short while later when I couldn’t pull my boys away from one of the hands-on exhibits in the outdoor area. They worked and modified what they were doing with this until they figured it out. Yay, STEM!

Other exhibits include the Paludarium, Cell Phone Disco, Story of Water, K’Nex sculpture, Chemical Reactions, Virtual Body Table, Molecular Detective, Create an Explosion and more. You get the idea. One of the most eye-catching exhibits is the Fractalarium that combines mathematics, art, and biology to get a model based on Romanesco Broccoli. The broccoli takes the form of a fractal – a complex geometrical shape that looks the same at every scale factor. I don’t fully understand it, but it’s sure pretty to look at.

The outdoor area, the Science and Art Park, is currently being built-out, but it’s already a lovely place to enjoy the weather and various activities (and two entertaining tortoises), and there is also the McKay art silo that currently houses a really interesting art exhibit involving Tibetan singing bowls.

The Science Mill is a great destination for kids of all ages, especially over the summer when you can spend a few hours on the exhibits, take in their 3-D movie, then have lunch or a snack at the on-site cafe. There are year-round events and exhibits at the Science Mill, too, so be sure to take a look at their website to learn more.

Finally, the Science Mill  offers great summer camps, both in Johnson City and in locations around Austin, so check those out for kids who are interested in STEM. Or for kids who aren’t yet interested in STEM, but will be after just a few minutes spent learning how awesome it is.

Thanks to the Science Mill for inviting us for a visit. We returned home both happier and wiser.

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