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Interactive Science Mill Now Even More ‘Hands’-on

Emmanuel Diaz (left) and Cavan Carruth of Variance Design in Johnson City get the 30-foot Colossal Robotic Hand ready for its grand opening, which is Saturday, Feb. 10, at the Science Mill, 101 S. Lady Bird Lane in Johnson City. The hand is created from 450 stainless-steel polygons. People can control the structure with a nearby hand-shaped joystick. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

JOHNSON CITY — You really have to give the Science Mill a hand for thinking outside of the box.

A Colossal Robotic Hand.

Zachary Zamora, the facility’s creative director, was given the green light to build the 30-foot structure, which kids can control remotely.

“I didn’t think it would get any traction,” Zamora said.

He pitched the idea of an interactive sculpture after coming across a (much smaller) cat comprised of polygons and first crafted, piece by piece, with a 3-D printer. Zamora, who is also the owner and founder of Variance Design, tinkered around a bit before he hit upon the idea of building a giant hand controlled by a hand-shaped joystick and small computers.

The Science Mill's new Colossal Robotic Hand can be controlled by a remote nearby. Staff photo by Daniel Clifton

He first worked out the design on a much smaller scale using a 3-D printer. He didn’t expect the idea to go much further than that.

Zamora laughed a bit at the recollection while sitting in the backyard of the Science Mill as two of his Variance Design crew members put the finishing touches on the Colossal Robotic Hand.

A grand opening for the structure is 10 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Feb. 10, at the learning facility, 101 S. Lady Bird St.

Zamora is still a bit amazed that his crazy idea is now reality.

“The (Science Mill) founders said they loved the idea, and let’s do it,” Zamora said.

Zamora and his Variance Design staff crafted the hand out of 450 stainless-steel polygons.

“It’s all hand-built,” he said. “We brought it over in three pieces, and set it up.”

It’s more than just a giant hand, though.

Kids will be able to control the 30-foot structure using a smaller hand located nearby as a joystick. A series of micro-computers interact to manipulate the giant fingers (though it’s programmed not to allow certain, well, inappropriate gestures). Designing and building such a structure wasn’t easy because the human hand is quite complex, both in its structure and its movement.

The Colossal Robotic Hand can’t do everything a human one can, but it still offers a great lesson on the science of movement. The fingers of the structure have openings to reveal the mechanisms that control the digits.

“It’s sort of deconstructing the hand,” Zamora said. “It really blends the lines between art and science.”

The 30-foot Colossal Robotic Hand clearly fits into the Science Mill’s mission of getting youth interested in engineering and related disciplines. It also shows how science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) interact with art. Hence, the move from STEM to STEAM to blend art into the mix.

“It adds one more iconic piece to the (Science) Mill,” Zamora added.

The public is invited to check out the Colossal Robotic Hand during the grand opening of the exhibit Feb. 10. Admission to the Science Mill is $10 for adults; $8.50 for ages 3-18; $8 for seniors 65 and older and military members; and free for ages 2 and younger.

Want to know more about the design, building, and installation of this massive kinetic sculpture? Zamora will be available to answer questions at the grand opening.

While there, be sure to check out the more than 50 hands-on exhibits.

Go to or call (844) 263-6405 for more information.

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