JOHNSON CITY — Visitors to the Hill Country Science Mill in Johnson City can create an explosion, use their minds to control a ball and play music by tapping on bananas, and that is just in one room.
The Science Mill is housed in the community’s former feed mill and the history of the building, including a photo of some graffiti created by Johnson City’s own President Lyndon B. Johnson, is illustrated along one of the center’s corridors.
Built in 1880 as a steam grist mill and cotton gin, the building held innovative machines to process, sort and distribute grain to the rural community. The steam mill was later converted to a flour mill, then a feed mill in the 1930s. The mill closed in the 1980s and was turned into a restaurant.
A long-time draw for photographers and artists with its 40-foot silos and stone exterior, the building opened as the Hill Country Science Mill in 2015.
Designed with middle and high school-aged students in mind, the Science Mill offers a full hands-on science, technology, engineering and mathematics experience for all ages.
The experience begins immediately upon entering, as youth are handed a card on a lanyard and sent to one of several kiosks just inside the mill’s entry. At the kiosk, students enter some information about themselves and customize an avatar that serves as a tour guide at stations throughout the mill.
The former grain silos have been converted into exhibits that show the cycle of water, fractals, the effects of rain on a topographical area, feature a cell phone disco with lights controlled by a cell phone’s radio waves and serve as the home to an art exhibit about Chakras.
Inside the buildings, visitors of all ages can write programs that tell an animatronic rattlesnake, longhorn and armadillo how and when to move; play music on some bananas, explore the human body and touch sound.
The effects of wind and air pressure are demonstrated via sailboat models that visitors race by adjusting air currents.
Visitors can get up close with preserved bugs and meet the mill’s collection of Zebrafish, which are studied by scientists.
The Zebrafish are housed in the BioLab where visitors can learn about carbon dioxide, bacteria, native insects and snakes and view the Atomic Jellyfish sculpture that was built from recycled materials.
Outside in the Science and Art Park, interactive creations allow visitors to operate a massive wave pendulum, learn about force with a lever and see kinetic energy at work by watching metal balls move through minding metal tunnels and passageways.
The mill also features 3-D movies that are shown several times each day. A schedule of showtimes as well as times to tour the Chakra art in the Silo of McKays is posted next to the entrance to help plan a visit.
For such a seemingly small place, there is an abundance of STEM-related activities for all ages.
Even those only mildly interested in science will enjoy getting hands-on, creating an explosion or challenging a friend to a mind over matter ball rolling contest.
For students, there are challenges to find DNA and solve a microbial mystery.
There is simply too much to describe. Visitors need to plan for at least three hours to get the full experience.
The Science Mill is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Wednesday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. on Sunday.
Military discount tickets are available at the door for $8, and children 3 and younger are admitted free.
For more information, visit www.sciencemill.org.