DANIEL CLIFTON • PICAYUNE EDITOR
JOHNSON CITY — While Spring Break means a break from school, it’s a perfect time to explore a local science facility that puts learning in the hands of the students.
The Hill Country Science Mill, 101 S. Lady Bird Lane (on U.S. 290), opened its doors in February. The center lets youth — and adults — get their hands on science, as well as technology, engineering and math displays.
You read that right: STEM.
But you’ll also find some art mixed in with the technology, including what looks like upside-down broccoli.
Hill Country Science Mill executive director Renee Williams smiled as she stepped into one of the old mill silos that holds the “Fractalarium.”
“We’re trying to show the intersection between biology and mathematics,” she said.
The lighted and colorful display hanging from the silo’s ceiling comes to life as a giant Romanesco broccoli with each complex geometrical shape looking almost exactly alike at each size and scale.
While it’s almost artistic, the display offers a very big view of how math crosses our paths on a daily basis, often just under our noses and sometimes right there on our dinner forks.
But it’s only one of many displays people can experience at the Hill Country Science Mill — and “experience” is the big word there.
“When (facility founder Bonnie Baskin) came up with this idea, she wanted something kids could come and do, not just walk through and look at things,” Williams explained. “So almost everything has a way people — particularly kids — can interact with it or do something.”
In a nearby room, Williams explained how the Critter Bots introduce people to basic coding. You sit at one of the control panels and program a robot — in this case, a Texas longhorn, a rattlesnake or other local animal — to do some simple movements.
That simple coding really goes to the heart of the Hill Country Science Mill’s mission: to get youth, particularly middle and high school students — interested in STEM studies. By letting them explore different facets of science, technology, engineering and math though interactive displays, Williams said the museum hopes they get inspired to continue to explore the topics. The Science Mill even has a way for students to reconnect with the museum online after they get home.
A trip to the Science Mill is a chance to have fun and learn a bit (without going to school.) There’s even a game called Mindball through which youth can challenge their parents or friends to see whose mind can move a white ball across a table.
“It gets quite competitive,” Williams said. “Sometimes, we’ll get a nice crowd gathered around the table watching.”
The Science Mill has extended operating hours during Spring Break. From March 10-21, the facility is open 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Tuesday-Saturday and noon-4 p.m. Sunday. The Science Mill is typically only open Wednesday-Sunday.
Admission is $6.50 for youth ages 2-18; $8 for adults; $6 for seniors (65 and older) and military members; and free for children younger than 2. Go to www.sciencemill.org for more information.