NEW! Exhibit Interaction Guides

Published April 12th, 2017 by Amber Middlebrook

With the rising pressures of standardized testing and an already tightly packed school year, Science Mill staff are always searching for ways to help teachers make field trip correlations effortless and more germane to their classroom curriculum. We are excited to launch a pilot program with Exhibit Interaction Guides to help teachers get the most educational bang for their buck out of their free exploration time at the Science Mill. The Exhibit Interaction Guides pilot will be available for 5th to 8th grades initially and we will add K-4, and 9-12 before next school year. We have correlated an exhibit activity to vocabulary connections, writing prompts, modeling ideas, sentence stems, content review questions, and STAAR review questions. To stay true to our commitment to get students invested in STEM careers, we’ve added career correlations and links to learn more. Our goal is that teachers will use these booklets to make correlations to their current units of study and encourage administrative and parent support for field trip excursions to the Science Mill. These TEKS-aligned activities provide teachers with ideas of what can be done at our exhibits and demonstrate classroom correlations in the form of warm-ups, reviews, or even as a project-based learning endeavor.

These Exhibit Interaction Guides provide teachers a framework for structure during their trip which can be curtailed to specific curriculum goals and gives chaperones an excellent way to interact with students during the field trip. These components could be used as an additional educational component during the travel time for your trip, keeping the kids engaged all day.  The goal of the guides is to provide support to teachers and help bridge the gap between an informal science field trip and classroom learning, ultimately providing a relevant connection to STEM classroom content learning. After the pilot program - and your feedback! - we aim to have one booklet per reporting category by each grade level K-8, with more extensive content guides for high school students.

We are eager to get these activities in your hands and as always will continue to research and develop learning experiences that enhance classroom learning and real world relevancy. To request a digital version of the Exhibit Interaction Guides, please email Amber Middlebrook at Thank you for your support of the Science Mill!

LIMITED field trips are available for April and May- BOOK NOW!

Celebrating Earth Every Day

Published March 30th, 2017 by Courtney Cooper

Earth Day, April 22, is approaching and this year, like every year, I feel a small twinge of guilt. What did I do to help the environment in 2016? Sure, I don’t use disposable water bottles, I turn off the water when I’m brushing my teeth, and I try to use reusable bags when I buy groceries. But is it enough? As I sit and contemplate this, the wind outside moving through the tall native grasses creates a pleasant rustling sound, complemented by the trill of a birdsong somewhere in the distance. Meanwhile, spectacular images of natural scenery fade from one to the next as screensavers on my television.

Determined to find the answer, which would either ease my conscience or increase my guilt, I decided to do some research to find some simple ways to help the environment. As it turns out, I have been doing more than I realized, and you probably have too. If, like me, you feel a little bad about not being more involved in environmental activism, give yourself a break. Take a look at these links and see how many beneficial things you have been doing already, without even realizing how much of a difference they make. After all, it’s not about a single person doing one huge thing to make a big change. It’s about all of us doing small things every day that, combined, make a powerful impact on our world.

Congratulate yourself for the things you have already been doing and challenge yourself to adopt more simple actions that help the planet into your daily routines.

Nature surrounds us. Although many of us spend most of our time inside, separated from it by walls and glass, and we have pushed it away as our cities expand, we must never lose respect for its beauty and power. Those fleeting screensaver images on my television that show the grandeur of our natural world are far removed from where I sit, but they are real places of ethereal beauty and they need our help to remain that way.

Celebrate Earth Day and learn about conservation at the Science Mill this month! Our rainwater collection exhibit allows visitors to input the amount of rainwater collection surface area and simulated rainfall on our mini architectural model of the Science Mill to see how many gallons can really be collected from the roof. Our 9600 gallon rainwater collection tank stands behind the exhibit, and you can see how we use the water we collect for outdoor irrigation and in the Zebrafish and Paludarium exhibits. Also learn how many gallons of water we use in our daily household tasks and routines!

In our Story of Water exhibit, located in one of our 40-foot-tall silos, you can learn about the movement of underground water and its place in the water cycle from within our man-made aquifer. You can also learn about living ecosystems at our Paludarium exhibit, where living and nonliving elements interact with one another, linked through nutrient cycles and the flow of energy.

Join us also on Saturday, April 29th for our Science Social, where Dr. Craig Packer, director of the Lion Research Center, professor at the University of Minnesota, and author of Lions in the Balance, will take us on a journey into the world of the African lion and discuss the reality of trying to balance trophy hunting with conservation.

The things you do to help the Earth don’t have to be time consuming or difficult. Here are 17 easy ways to help our environment. I’ve been doing eight of these things already! How many have you been doing and how many more can you incorporate into your life?

Kids can help the environment too! Let them know how the things you are doing help the environment and they will get excited about it too! Here is a link that can help educate kids about the environment and show them ways to get involved in preserving it.

Together, we can make a change! Here is more information about how you can join the Science Mill as we March for Science in Austin this Earth Day.

 Many more resources at

Radical Robots

Published March 13th, 2017 by Courtney Cooper

When you hear the word robot, what comes to mind? Do you think of a machine with a human-like form, or do you picture something different? With the popularity of robotics as the subject of Hollywood movies and network cartoons, a certain image of robots has been indelibly imprinted onto our minds. We sometimes forget how many different types of robots exist, and that most do not look anything like us. Movies like I, Robot and Terminator, while entertaining, have cast a negative shadow on robots, depicting machines that develop a self-awareness and capacity for original thought that wreak havoc on humanity. The prevalence of robotics in the science fiction genre has undoubtedly influenced our thoughts and our fascination with robots, but the field of robotics is vast and encompasses many disciplines including military services, car production, space exploration, surgery, underwater exploration, crime fighting, and commercialized agriculture, to name a few.

Groundbreaking technology is leading to new, exciting developments in robotics that are changing the world as the field explores new pathways and possibilities. For example, with the decline in pollinating insect populations, there is growing concern as to how we will continue to pollinate our crops and wild plants. One chemist in Japan has developed a drone that can pick up pollen with a strip of horsehair coated in gel and deposit it onto other flowers. He hopes to create a fleet of 100 drones that use GPS and artificial intelligence to aid in plant pollination.

Another robot being developed is the bat robot or “Bat Bot”, which can fly and adjust its movements in mid-air to maneuver just like a bat. More agile than a drone, this robot could someday be used on construction sites to fly in and out of the structures to keep track of progress, according to a roboticist at the University of Illinois. Just imagine how many other uses this robot could have in the future!

In the medical world, a robotic sleeve that pumps the heart has been developed. The device wraps around the heart and contracts in a motion that mimics the way the layers of our heart  muscle move, pumping it when it is too weak to pump effectively for itself. This robot could help keep heart failure patients alive while waiting for a transplant.

Hydrogel robots could also help with medical procedures. Hydrogel is a rubbery substance made almost entirely of water. If designed for underwater use, these robots would be nearly invisible. A professor of mechanical, civil, and environmental engineering at MIT is looking to develop these robots for medical use. He hopes to create hydrogel hands which could perform softer, gentler manipulations of tissues and organs during surgical procedures. With so many new technologies emerging, robots help us to overcome our limitations and make the possibilities for the future truly limitless.

To explore the exciting world of robotics, join us at the Science Mill on March 14th, 15th, and 16th for Robot Mania during Spring Break. We will be having robot demonstrations as well as hands on robot activities from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. Learn how to build, program, code, and battle robots as well as navigate obstacle courses with robotic cars, guide SWAT-like robots on a rescue mission, and paint with robots! Additionally, be sure to check out our permanent Critter Bots exhibit. This exhibit allows you to code and control 3 different robotic animals by creating  programs that make the animals move and sound!

Is there life out there?

Published March 2nd, 2017 by Amber Middlebrook

Last week NASA tweeted about an exciting new discovery! So, what does this mean to you and your classroom?

Within this astonishing discovery there is a wealth of cross-curricular content to be dissected and utilized within your classroom. These 7 new planets and their Red Dwarf star have opened the door to exciting space education opportunities, as well as a teachable moment for real world relevancy within scientific discovery.

Now is a great time to investigate the wealth of articles and interviews surrounding the possibly habitable planets to increase science literacy (there’s a list of a few articles and online resources at the end of this article). It is also a chance to come together with your grade level partners and colleagues and see how we can take this global excitement and create your own classroom enthusiasm! In the past, space exploration and shuttle launches were a part of classroom learning, but in the past few decades, due to decline in funding, NASA is no longer on the lips of every kid and space exploration has become almost a “been there, done that” type of topic.  But now, we can harness a new educational adventure on the orbit of Trappist-1 discovery!

Here are a few ideas of how to use the Trappist-1 discovery in your classroom:

  • Explore the concepts of science fiction versus science facts
  • Explore and define the requirements for life for cellular organisms and research why scientists believe that these planets are potentially habitable
  • Construct a story of traveling to a new planet, growing up in Trappist-1, the view of the planets in that solar system
  • Write a science fiction story about a new life form by considering some of the facts of the discovery and adding imagination
  • Solve the engineering problem of how will we get to Trappist-1
  • What role will the James Webb Telescope play in helping us to learn more about these planets?
  • Brainstorm entrepreneurial ideas of new companies that will help us get to Trappist-1
  • Ask students to calculate the travel times between the planets in Trappist -1, the light years between Earth and the region
  • Get out the H-R Diagrams and calculate the difference between this Red Dwarf (M dwarf) and our Sun
  • Incorporate a modeling activity wherein students can build a geometric scale model of our solar system and one of Trappist -1 to compare the two

Incorporate STEM careers into your discovery activities and discussions:

  • Why would we need to have a botanist or geologist on a space exploration to this region?
  • How would engineers contribute to furthering this discovery?
  • What other careers might be needed to make this adventure viable, more profound, or even feasible?
  • What careers might need to be created if there is life on this planet?

The possibilities of bringing science and cross-curricular learning to life using the excitement of this new discovery are outstanding. It’s the perfect opportunity to discuss relevancy of current events and to engage in a global discussion that could have monumental effects on life as we know it within their lifetime! Have fun!


Have a Heart Healthy February

Published February 9th, 2017 by Courtney Cooper

If the months of the year had designated shapes as they do birthstones and flowers, February’s shape would be the heart. Not only is Valentine’s Day celebrated this month, but it is also American Heart Month. As if painlessly pierced by Cupid’s invisible arrow, I find myself thinking about love and doodling hearts on the corners of my calendars, to-do lists, and schedules, reminiscent of the days when I sat in my desk at school and scribbled hearts on the homework I should have been doing. But sitting in that desk all those years ago it never occurred to me that the emotion so inextricably tied to the shape has scientifically measurable health benefits, and that experiencing love feels so good because it is so good for you. Oh love, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways:

1. H is for Holding Hands

The next time you feel nervous, reach for a loved one’s hand. The reassuring touch of a friend, child, spouse, or other family member decreases the brain waves triggered by the anticipation of something stressful. Stress and anxiety are detrimental to our health and can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, and other factors that may contribute to heart disease. Take a cue from Hootie and the Blowfish and “Hold My Hand.”

2. E is for Embrace

Have high blood pressure? Wrap your arms around someone you love. Hugging encourages the body’s release of oxytocin, nicknamed the cuddle hormone or love hormone. Oxytocin can reduce stress inducing hormones and lower blood pressure, so when in doubt, hug it out.

3. A is for Attitude

Having a hard time shaking that bad attitude? Spending time with loved ones does wonders to change your outlook on life. Maintaining a positive attitude can help keep cardiovascular disease at bay. Adopt a glass-half-full optimism and reap the reward of better health overall.

4. R is for Rhythm of my Heart

You know the tell-tale signs of being in romantic love. Your eyes meet and your heart beats out of your chest, the atmosphere’s supply of oxygen suddenly does not meet your demand, and your stomach becomes the site of a substantial butterfly migration. Initiated by the release of hormones like dopamine and adrenaline, the increase in heart rate that occurs when you look into the eyes of that special someone acts like aerobic exercise, improving the fitness and blood pumping capabilities of your heart. When shyness overcomes you and you feel the urge to drop your gaze, hold it a little longer and give your heart some exercise.

5. T is for Time Spent

Spending time in the company of loved ones can lower blood pressure. When in the presence of those closest to you, the need for small talk disappears and the resulting quiet allows your blood pressure to decrease. Cut the chatter; silence is golden.

In addition to these five ways love keeps your heart healthy, two more deserve mention.

6. Laugh it Up

We constantly hear that laughter is the best medicine, and it’s true. Mental stress constricts blood vessels, restricting blood flow. The antidote? A good laugh with the people who know how to tickle your funny bone best - your loved ones.

7. “Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?”

The love letters of old still have a place in our modern day love lives and in our health routines, too. Writing about the love you hold for the special people in your life lowers cholesterol. So go ahead and try your hand at being a sonnet-writing Shakespeare. Even if your writing isn’t eloquent prose, your body will act as though you’ve written the most beautiful poem of all.

With all the health benefits of love, why resist? Fall head over heels, jump in the trajectory of Cupid’s arrow, and “Put a Little Love in Your Heart.” At the risk of looking like a love-struck teenager, I will continue to draw hearts on my papers and write a love note or two. Maybe I’ll even doodle my name attached to a special someone’s surname in my notebook surrounded by, you guessed it, hearts.

To discover more ways to improve your health, join us at the Science Mill for our Science Social talk on February 11th, where Dr. Bernlohr, Ph.D. will discuss discoveries that have altered aging research and revealed how to live healthy longer.

Happy Valentine’s Day and American Heart Month.


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