Professor Graham Durant has been Questacon’s Director since March 2003. Prior to Questacon, he spent 25 years at the University of Glasgow in Scotland and was closely involved in the establishment of the Glasgow Science Centre. He has a PhD in geology and a background in science communication. He is a Visiting Fellow at the ANU Centre for the Public Awareness of Science and a leader in the international science centre sector.
Questacon International Update
I have recently returned from Vietnam where Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre, was invited by Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade to tour an exhibition across Vietnam as part of the 40th Anniversary celebrations of the start of diplomatic relations with Vietnam. Questacon’s travelling exhibition ‘Fascinating Science on the Move’ visited Hanoi, Da Nang and Ho Chi Minh City between 7 April and 29 April. The exhibition was accompanied by three science show presenters who were responsible for setting up the exhibition and delivering science shows and teacher workshops at the three venues across Vietnam.
This tour provided over 7500 students, teachers and families with an opportunity to interact with the presenters and Questacon’s hands on exhibits. During the tour valuable assistance was provided by small teams of locals from the Australian Embassy in Hanoi and Da Nang and a similar group in Ho Chi Minh City from the Australian Trade Consulate.
As you can see by the images here, the exhibition and our team of presenters were well received and we look forward to returning back to Vietnam in the near future.
You would also have noticed recently that Pay Parking has been in the media due to the recent commonwealth budget announcements that the National Capital Authority (NCA) will install paid parking in the Parliamentary Zone by 1 July 2014. The cost is likely to be in the order of $2 per hour and the NCA has indicated that there will be numerous short-stay carparks in close vicinity of Questacon. The NCA is seeking public comment on the proportion and location of short-stay versus long-stay parking; submissions can be made at: http://www.nationalcapital.gov.au/haveyoursay Questacon will continue to lobby on behalf of our Q Club members and visitors with the goal of maximising availability of visitor parking.
28 May 2013
Q Club Director's Message
I would like to take this opportunity to thank all members who attended some of the special events we hosted at Questacon during the Enlighten Festival and Canberra Centenary weekend. Further events are scheduled throughout the year and I encourage all members to enjoy the wide variety of shows, lectures and demonstrations. Information is regularly updated on the Questacon website.
Some of you may have seen the recent report on the ABC on the parking situation in Canberra. I recognise that the inability to find parking close to Questacon due to the extensive use of the car park by commuters continues to be frustrating for members. We are continuing to work towards achieving the best possible outcome for visitors to Questacon and appreciate your continuing support despite the parking difficulties.
Next time you visit Questacon make sure you visit our newest outdoor exhibit, NKRYPT. With the growth of the internet, encryption of data has never been more important and NKRYPT is all about codes and ciphers. The exhibit’s range of codes differ in their degree of difficulty so there is something for all ages. We expect some of these codes will be broken quickly while others may take longer or not be broken at all! We recently welcomed Senator Kate Lundy, Senator for the ACT, to Questacon to unveil the exhibit and launch the Centenary of Canberra code challenge.
If you are travelling over the Easter break, keep safe and we hope to see you at Questacon in the near future.
22 March 2013
Questacon celebrates the Centenary of Canberra
Most readers will be aware that 2013 marks the Centenary of the founding of Canberra. It’s a year to celebrate our national capital—its history, its symbolic role as the seat of Australian democracy, its uniquely planned beauty, and the enjoyable lifestyle it affords its residents.
Questacon is proud to be part of the Centenary celebrations, presenting a range of special events and activities throughout the year that will highlight the contribution scientists make to the fabric of our Canberra community, and to Australia’s prosperity.
The Science Sport Spectacular on 23 February is a family fun day with a range of energetic activities and presentations on offer, suitable for all ages. These activities will highlight just how important science and technology is to the success of modern athletes, and demonstrate some of the high-tech equipment used in training and competition in a variety of sports, from archery to cycling.
In March we will see Questacon in a whole new light with the Enlighten Festival on the weekends of 1–2 and 8–9 March. Questacon’s Enlighten events include night-time openings, performances and a unique wine-tasting event hosted by Nobel Laureate and Questacon Advisory Council Member, Professor Brian Schmidt. Whilst most well-known for his ground-breaking work in astrophysics, Brian is also a keen winemaker with his very own pinot noir label. Details of these events are available on the Questacon website.
During last year’s Festival it Questacon and many other iconic buildings within the Parliamentary Zone were spectacularly illuminated with beautiful projected artworks, and I’m sure these will again be a highlight. The precinct around Questacon will become a lively food and entertainment hub over these four amazing nights.
Throughout the Canberra Centenary year, the excitement at Questacon will reach boiling point with many events including 100°C—Stories of 100 Canberra Scientists lecture series. It is through our close working relationships with Canberra’s world-class universities and research facilities that we are able to share with our visitors the opportunity to interact with Canberra scientists in a range of diverse fields. Most of these talks are free and will be held in the Japan Theatre.
Taking the celebration beyond Canberra, the Shell Questacon Science Circus outreach program will also be incorporating the Centenary message into their touring program throughout the year.
Later in the year we look forward to the official opening and public open day for the new Questacon Technology Learning Centre (QTLC). The QTLC will offer a complementary experience to the Centre in Parkes, with a focus on technology, innovation and the processes of invention. Bookings are now open for school and community groups to experience the range of hands-on workshops available.
August will be the Centenary’s Science Month, culminating in the national launch at Questacon of National Science Week—Australia’s national celebration of science and technology. With over 1000 events across Australia, National Science Week gives people of all ages a chance to interact with science across the country through events, open days, community festivals and more.
In November, we will celebrate our own milestone; the 25th anniversary of the opening of Questacon as Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre in the Parliamentary Zone in Canberra. Over the past quarter-century, over 26 million people have experienced Questacon’s uniquely engaging exhibitions, programs and events—both in the Centre in Canberra and through our national and international travelling exhibitions and outreach programs. We look forward to the opportunity to reflect on our past successes, and to also set our sights on what we must achieve over the next 25 years to continue to engage Australians with science, technology and innovation.
I encourage as many people as possible to enjoy the exciting array of events and activities that will be on offer across the year, both at Questacon, around Canberra, and across the country.
8 February 2013
Questacon in the Asian century
Have you ever wondered why the Japanese flag is flying outside the Questacon building? As Questacon approaches its 25th year as Australia's National Science and Technology Centre it is timely to remember that it was the gift from the Japanese Government and business sector that led to the Australian Government's commitment to build the centre in the Parliamentary Zone as a Bicentennial project.
From that time Questacon has had a strong relationship with Japan and with Japanese science centres and museums. There have been many distinguished Japanese visitors to Questacon and many joint activities between Questacon and Japanese science centres and research organisations.
However, Questacon has strong relationships with many other Asian countries and for more than a decade has supported the development of the Asia-Pacific network of science centres (ASPAC). A brief scan around some current projects indicates the nature and depth of this relationship with our Asian neighbours.
During October Questacon has hosted visitors from the Gwaechon National Museum in South Korea who wanted to study hands-on exhibition development and from the China Science and Technology Museum in Beijing who will be joining the Shell Questacon Science Circus Tour currently underway in Far North Queensland. A Questacon exhibition Measure Island has just opened in Brunei and Questacon is currently building some exhibits for the National Science Museum in Bangkok. Next month Questacon staff will be working with the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science at the ANU to run a two-week science centre capacity building workshop in Jakarta as part of a longer term project also involving the Exploratorium from San Francisco.
Looking to the future, Questacon is working with DFAT staff to organise a tour of a Science on the Move exhibition to 3 venues in Vietnam during 2013 as part of the celebrations of the 40th Anniversary of the start of diplomatic relations. Questacon is also planning a science circus tour to the tsunami recovery areas of northern Japan in early 2014 as part of Questacon's 25th Anniversary celebrations and as a way to thank Japan for its founding contribution.
Questacon has a long history of engagement with countries in the Asian region and has provided help to science centres in Malaysia, Thailand, Japan, Indonesia and the Philippines. Questacon staff have previously produced the exhibition 'Innovative Australians' which toured 9 countries in 1998-2000. Questacon has sent exhibitions to support international education marketing events in Japan and South Korea and in 1996 ran a 3-month long AusAID supported program touring its Fascinating Science exhibition through neighbouring South Pacific Island Countries. UNESCO asked Questacon to run a program in Dili in 2003 to stimulate interest and educational activity.
Questacon has led international workshops on exhibition development, hosted internships, arranged staff exchanges and former Questacon staff have acted as consultants and volunteers to support various emerging Asian science centres.
Recently Questacon has used its broadband videoconferencing capability to link school students in Canberra and Adelaide with students at the Guangdong Science Centre in China and Science Centre Singapore. The students were undertaking projects and discussing issues of water management. This is a harbinger of the increased international linkages that will surely follow developments in technology.
For those who say 'I didn't know that Questacon did that', well, we do and much more besides. Questacon is one of Australia's most significant cultural diplomacy assets facilitating people to people interaction, institution to institution interaction and country to country interaction through popular hands-on science exhibits and science shows that are aimed at school student and family audiences. We do this in many countries and not just the Asia-Pacific region.
Will we continue to be internationally engaged? Yes. Could we do more? Absolutely - what we do is scalable. Will we continue to lead the science centre sector in the Asia-Pacific region? We will try, but other Asian countries are making massive investments in their national science centres. In 1988 Questacon led the way in the southern hemisphere and was a pioneer in the Asia-Pacific region. Its pre-eminent position is being eroded and it is now timely to consider how best we can set Questacon up for the next 25 years as Australia's National Science and Technology Centre. It will be a challenging time with many emerging issues of a scientific nature and a continuing need to encourage young people to study science, maths and engineering. Australia needs a strong focal point for activity in this area and a venue to showcase Australia's excellence in scientific research.
7 November 2012
Q Club Director's Message
On behalf of the staff and volunteers here at Questacon I would like to thank our Q Club members for continued support during 2012 and wish you all a happy and safe holiday season.
It has been another good year for Questacon in Canberra, across Australia and internationally. We farewelled Sideshow and welcomed Excite@Q which has provided a vibrant new gallery experience. The 360° swing is proving to be a popular challenge.
The new Q Lab program has been very successful this year with several guest presenters and specialised workshops. If you haven’t done so already, I encourage all of you to experience Q Lab for yourself. It is different every day.
I am very excited about our newest exhibitions which are due to open this month: Mathamazing is a travelling exhibition that will be in Questacon from 8 November-10 December 2012 in Gallery 5, before leaving to start its Australian tour on 12 November 2012 and Deep Oceans will open in Gallery 1 for 12 months. This exciting new exhibition will take you on a journey through the mysterious deep and uncover the secrets of the world’s largest habitat as the strange and rarely seen creatures of the deep are revealed. Watch out for regular updates and the program of talks from some of Australia’s leading marine experts.
The new Questacon Technology Learning Centre (QTLC) alongside the Royal Australian Mint in Deakin will have staged openings from February 2013. The QTLC will feature a Gallery of Australian Inventiveness and an activity space for Create and Make workshops that focus on innovation and technology skills. We look forward to bringing you more information on this exciting program in 2013.
We continue to work with the National Capital Authority to improve the car-parking situation adjacent to Questacon and expect some further developments during the year ahead.
I would like to offer our Q Club card holders an additional 10% discount on purchases made at the Q Shop from Thursday 6 December through to Sunday 9 December 2012. I encourage you to take advantage of this massive 20% discount or if you are not already a Q Club member, you may wish to join before or during this period to take advantage of the Q Club shop offer.
As I make my way around the galleries at Questacon I am always aware of the transformative effect that a scientific insight can produce. From the moment of understanding when a child grasps a concept and relates it to the world around them, to the occasion where that same child one days returns to work at Questacon, having taken up studies in the scientific field, I feel an immense sense of pride in all that we are working to achieve.
I look forward to continuing to share those moments with you all in 2013, and once again wish you a safe and cheerful festive season.
6 November 2012
Parking—frustrations for visitors
You may recall my message of 30 May 2011 where I advised that we are working with the National Capital Authority on solutions to the parking shortfall. Whilst we have had some success, including 3-hour time limits to some of the adjacent car parks, the total quantity of available parking has decreased significantly since the NCA closed 320 car parking spaces in the Patrick White Lawns on 3 August.
The current lack of visitor parking is unacceptable and runs counter to attempts to attract visitors to Canberra.The use of most of the parking spaces by commuters throughout the week continues to be a source of extreme frustration for visitors and has a significant impact on our operational capability.
Despite our frequent requests for improved visitor parking arrangements we are only one of many stakeholders that have input to the issue of parking. However, we have increased our advocacy in the media and our lobbying of commonwealth and territory governments for a parking strategy that benefits visitors over other users of car parks in the Parliamentary Zone.
Over the next month I urge visitors and others with an interest in the parking issue to contact us directly so we continue to provide evidence to the NCA.We will continue to push for dedicated, free, close and accessible parking for visitors to the national institutions.
I would like to thank Members for their continued support despite the parking difficulties and encourage you to send your parking feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also follow us on Twitter and visit us on Facebook.
12 September 2012
(l-r) Mark Parncutt, Bridgette Greenfield, Kelly Chiu, Marita Cheng, Koshali Jayawardana and Graham Durant (Director Questacon)
Photo: Aiden Lynch, Questacon
Last month I was delighted to welcome Robogals founder Marita Cheng—Young Australian of the Year 2012 to Questacon.
I had the pleasure of meeting Marita here at Questacon along with Robogals team members who participated in a video conference—"Young women engineering for the future" with ACT schools and schools from across Australia.
Marita is in the midst of her studies at the University of Melbourne and is the Young Australian of the Year 2012 for her efforts in encouraging young women to take up a career in engineering.
Questacon and the Exploratorium
The Exploratorium in San Francisco has been the intellectual leader of the hands-on science movement since 1969 and was the inspiration for the original founding of Questacon. Paul Doherty from the Exploratorium will be visiting Questacon in July to deliver science communication master classes to Questacon science communicators and partners.
Paul is highly regarded in the world science communicators sector and is a physicist, teacher, author, and rock climber with a Ph.D. in solid-state physics from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (1974).
In 1986, Paul started at the Exploratorium Teacher Institute and began exhibit-based explorations in science communication. Paul has written over two dozen articles for Exploring magazine, and has co-authored the Exploratorium Science Snackbook, the Klutz Book of Magnetic Magic, and the book, Traces of Time: The Beauty of Change in Nature.
Paul has won several competitions, including an award as "Best Science Demonstrator" at the World Congress of Museums in Helsinki in 1996 and recently performed physics activities on Late Night with David Letterman.
National Science Week 2012
National Science Week 2012 will be held from August 11-19. Each year there are over 1200 events across Australia during National Science Week and there are many ways to get involved—go to an event, visit your local science centre, organise your own event or get your school involved in an activity or take part in the online national project where all you need is your computer.
19 July 2012
Questacon Technology Learning Centre
I am pleased to advise that work is currently underway to fit out the new Questacon Technology Learning Centre (QTLC) in Deakin. The building was originally the administration building for the Royal Australian Mint and it became available when the Mint created more space through the re-design of its larger premises next door.
The QTLC will provide the opportunity to increase Questacon’s technology engagement through a small public space, interactive workshops and events to support technology education.
The QTLC will provide expanded learning activities and experience rich programs in engineering, technology, innovation, design and manufacturing. These activities and experiences, designed for secondary students, will focus on, innovation and technology skills and raise awareness of Australia’s high end manufacturing. The QTLC will also offer a small public exhibition space that tells stories of the innovation and manufacturing process from concept to production.
The QTLC will be complementary to Questacon’s main premises in Parkes, acting as an educational hub designed to inspire young Australians to invent and innovate.
I recently spoke to the Canberra Times about this exciting new chapter in Questacon’s life.
Read the full Canberra Times article.
You can continue to see the QTLC come to life on the QTLC webpage.
1 June 2012
Greetings from a very busy science centre! It's April already and Questacon has been alive with activity since my last Director's Message—and I'm pleased to be able to update you with what's been happening around Questacon over the past months.
In December, Questacon hosted a very successful Q Club Members' Night event. It was lovely to see so many members attend the event, and engage with science, technology and live demonstrations throughout the evening. It was then onto Christmas and the New Year, as we welcomed a very wet 2012.
Kicking the year off with high nutritional value, Questacon's Q Lab paid homage to the humble potato. Potato Day explored the science of potatoes; covering topics such as potato osmosis, potato packaging, potato batteries and potato cars. Potato Day also shed light on the answer to this very important question: "What is a fried slice of potato from a fish and chip shop called? Potato cake or potato scallop?" The overall statistics show a clear 2:1 majority for potato scallops; however, Questacon has learnt that many of its visitors take their potatoes pretty seriously!
Over the summer holidays I spent some time in the galleries to do a spot of volunteer explaining. Questacon is host to over 100 volunteers, whose time and energy we greatly value. You'll often find our volunteer explainers in Curiosity Corner or throughout the galleries. Ask them a question, and you'll be sure to get a great answer, often with a twist! Speaking of twists, Questacon celebrated Valentine's Day this year by dissecting sheep hearts in Q Lab in front of brave (and non-queasy) audiences. Call it unconventional, yet we do aim to explore the science of any occasion!
In March Questacon welcomed its newest exhibition, Excite@Q, a gallery spacefocused on showcasing the best of the best of scientific phenomena. Our Questacon Exhibitions Services team spent many months working on the concepts and exhibits included in the new gallery and after much experimenting and road-testing; the exhibition was finally ready for the public. We have received really positive feedback, with many of our members and visitors enjoying the new, interactive science concepts presented. Excite@Q will receive some additional exhibits in May, so we look forward to seeing you all in the new gallery soon.
Event-wise, we've been very busy. Questacon had a visit from Senator the Honourable Chris Evans, our Minister for Tertiary Education, Skills, Science and Research. It was the Minister's first visit to Questacon under his new portfolio, and whilst here he met with some of our staff, experienced a liquid nitrogen volcano eruption and announced the successful National Science Week grant winners. The visit was a great success, with Questacon showcasing the value of science exploration, research and communication to our Federal representative.
Additionally, Questacon played host to a legend of space exploration, NASA Administrator Charles F. Bolden Jr. Mr Bolden, accompanied by US Ambassador Jeffrey Bleich, presented at a one hour long video conference coordinated by our Digital Communications Team. Mr Bolden spoke about his experiences with NASA, the complexities and beauty of being an astronaut in space, and fielded questions on how NASA effectively works with its allocated budget. The conference was presented to an in-house audience of 170 school students and institute leaders, live streamed to the internet, and via video conference, connected with schools and institutes from as far as Perth and Tasmania. It was a privilege to welcome both the Administrator and Ambassador into the Centre, and gain great insight into the future of space exploration.
As I said, we've been very busy! Outside of the Centre, we've sent Outreach teams to Southern NSW, the Shell Questacon Science Circus to Newcastle and surrounding areas and our Beyond School – So What's Next? conference debuted in March, connecting local and regional high school students with professionals in the key areas of science, engineering and mathematics. I'll keep you posted each month with what's been going on at Questacon, and any upcoming events of interest.
16 April 2012
Q Club Director's Message
With the end of another successful year at Questacon rapidly approaching, I look forward to you joining us for a night of excitement at the Q Club members' night on Thursday 8 December. On behalf of all the staff and volunteers here at Questacon I would like to thank you for your continued support this year and wish you a happy and safe holiday season.
It has been a busy year for Questacon in Canberra, across Australia and internationally. The opening of Q Lab in the Centre provides a new dynamic and experimental environment that encourages hands-on exploration and discovery. The QLab program will continually change and develop and if you have not already done so I encourage you to come and try Q Lab for yourselves.
Next year we will be farewelling Sideshow and welcoming our new Excite@Q gallery. Questacon staff are working hard to create, build and test some amazing new exhibits for you to experience and don’t worry Freefall will still feature in the new gallery!
Questacon is pleased to have secured the premises for a new Questacon Technology Learning Centre (QTLC), to be located in the former Administration building at the Royal Australian Mint. This new space creates an opportunity to positively impact the future of innovation in Australia by increasing engagement among secondary school students in building and making things. Questacon’s own exhibits will be designed and built in the new facility. In 2012 we look forward to bringing you more information on this exciting development.
Nationally, Questacon’s various outreach programs have had a busy year and the new schools video-conferencing facility is breaking new ground in science communication linking schools and scientists across the country. National Science Week and the Inspiring Australia initiatives are also making a difference on the ground throughout Australia.
I would urge all members to gain the full benefit of their membership by utilizing all that the centre has to offer throughout 2012. In addition to a changing program of exhibitions, the Excited Particles will perform approximately 3,000 science shows during the year so pop in and catch one if you are in the neighbourhood!
As I make my way around the galleries at Questacon I am always aware of the transformative effect that a scientific insight can produce. From the moment of understanding when a child grasps a concept and relates it to the world around them, to the occasion where that same child one days returns to work at Questacon, having taken up studies in the scientific field, I feel an immense sense of pride in all that we are working to achieve.
I look forward to continuing to share those moments with you all in 2012, and once again wish you a safe and cheerful festive season.
22 November 2011
The Global Questacon
You will be familiar with Questacon, the white building near Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra, that is filled with exhibits that encourage visitors to experience the fascinating world of science. But did you know that in addition to the centre, Questacon reaches around Australia and across the world?
In the last couple of weeks the Shell Questacon Science Circus has been on tour in the Gippsland region of Victoria. The Science Circus is a travelling program that involves a touring exhibition of science and maths exhibits along with a group of science communicators who deliver science shows to schools and the public. The Questacon Smart Movers, who promote Australian innovation to schools, head out at the end of October to the south of Queensland.
While Questacon's outreach programs have been out on the road so have I. In early September I attended the 6th Science Centre World Congress in Cape Town, South Africa. This meeting brought together science centre representatives from across the globe to discuss a plethora of issues around science and technology. Most importantly prior to this event I provided advice to the pre-congress workshop with the aim of bringing a science centre to each country in Africa. Questacon has a key role in providing support to this project and will continue to be involved for many years to come.
In the last two weeks the world has also come to Questacon. In early October the High Commissioner of India Mrs Sujatha Singh visited Questacon for the first time. The following week we hosted a large delegation from the Diet, Japan's parliament. Members of the House of Councillors had a tour of the Centre, continuing the relationship between Japan and Australia that Questacon is a symbol of. While visiting Questacon the Councillors met with a staff member of the Hamamatsu Science Museum who has been on a placement with the Excited Particles as part of an ongoing performance skills exchange between Japan and Australia.
This is just a snapshot of the different activities that Questacon is involved in across Australia and around the world and the different people that are aware of the work that Questacon is doing to inspire people about science and technology.
21 October 2011
National Science Week 2011
National Science Week 2011 runs from 13–21 August. It is Australia's largest festival celebrating science, innovation, mathematics, engineering and technology. National Science Week aims to reach as many Australians as possible with a positive message about the impact that science has on our lives, our economy, our society and our world.
With over 1000 events held throughout Australia, it brings scientific displays, theatrical events, debates, public lectures and a myriad of science shows to over a million people throughout the year. Communities, schools and volunteers along with partners, sponsors and state coordinating committees work together to produce a vast range of fun and exciting science-related experiences.
Questacon supports National Science Week and there will be many opportunities for you to participate and celebrate science in the National Capital. Amongst all the other events at Questacon I will be giving a presentation on Saturday 20 August Volcanoes; what is erupting today? This is a free event in the Japan Theatre at Questacon (12.00pm and 2.00pm). Bookings are not required; I hope you can join me.
Other events in Canberra and the surrounding region include The Canberra Family Science Spectacular, open days at scientific institutions such as Geoscience Australia, the Canberra Hospital, theatrical performances, musical shows, Scinema film screenings, workshops and the challenge of The Great Canberra Science Scramble. More information on Questacon, local and national events and activities is available at National Science Week events.
You can also participate in an online National Project Are you a good multi-tasker? and contribute to a real scientific research project.
What makes a person able to successfully prioritise and juggle tasks? Is there an underlying cognitive factor that makes some of us good at multi-tasking? Could it be related to memory? Scientists from the University of Queensland's School of Psychology and Queensland Brain Institute are asking just these questions and they need YOU to help them find the answers.
Throughout the month of August we'll be looking for people all over Australia to take the online multi-tasking test. All you'll need is a computer with an internet connection and about 20 minutes of time. By getting involved you'll find out something about how well you multi-task as well as contributing to a real scientific research project!
More information is available from the National Tour and online National Project.
29 July 2011
The Dust has Settled
If you have visited Questacon recently you will have noticed that the capital works program within the foyer is now completed, resulting in improved visitor flow and access to the Cafè, Q Shop and ticketing desk. I would like to thank you all for your patience during this period and now that the dust has settled I hope you will enjoy your new facilities, the recently installed outdoor exhibits and the upcoming exhibitions.
Questacon continues to work with the National Capital Authority on parking solutions and we are currently trialing 2 hour parking adjacent to Questacon to free up spaces for our short-stay visitors. We are working towards some 3-4 hour parking spaces on the larger car-park. I would like to thank everyone who has provided feedback on the current parking arrangements.
Robothespian our interactive robot is now located in the foyer, so be sure to look for him next time you visit.
We have completed the installation of five outdoor exhibits, the Flickering Leaf, Rock Xylophone, Moebius sculpture, Szilassi Polyhedron and Sound Pillar with some others in the pipeline. They have helped bring more life into the landscaped area between the National Library of Australia and Questacon.
We are continuing to enhance the exhibitions in the Questacon galleries. The next development is QLab which will focus on live demonstrations, hands on activities and multimedia content produced by Questacon staff and visiting scientists. QLab will provide a space where our young science communicators and volunteers can share their passion for science and where visitors can experiment and explore what it is like to think like a scientist. QLab is due to open mid September 2011. We are also planning a significant refurbishment of the Side Show Gallery for 2012 balancing the best of what currently exists with some new experiences as well as working on the travelling exhibition Deep Oceans the Australian Museum for 2013.
30 May 2011
Q Club Directors Message
In the next few weeks Questacon will be installing new outdoor exhibits and preparing for the arrival of Robothespian, our newest interactive robotic team member in the galleries.
Robothespian has arrived in Canberra and is currently undergoing testing at Questacon's Exhibition Services facility in Fyshwick. As soon as the testing is complete Robothespian will be brought to Questacon for its public debut in the galleries.
Questacon's new outdoor sculptural exhibits are also now being installed between the rear science court and the National Library. These new exhibits will bring Questacon's unique brand of science to the outdoors and provide an even better venue for family picnics. The new exhibits include a new, larger lithophone, a granite tuning fork and a seven metre tall flicker disk. Two topological sculptures will also be installed, a Moebius loop and a Szillassi shape. Installation of these new exhibits is due to be completed in mid February.
The National Capital Authority is continuing to address the challenges of car parking in the Parliamentary Zone. Questacon made a submission to the recent public discussion paper to ensure the needs of our visitors are represented.
I hope you and your families are enjoying a wonderful start to 2011 and that you are able to visit us soon.
28 January 2011
Wet summer and dry as dust
Questacon was pleased to welcome Susie O'Neill to help launch Questacon's newest exhibition H2O—Soak Up the Science.
The H2O—Soak Up the Science exhibition was a partnership with the National Water Commission and explores the fundamental science of the combination of hydrogen and oxygen that is responsible for life on earth.
Questacon was delighted to receive the model asteroid explorer "Hayabusa" from Japan. The Hayabusa model is currently on display in the Questacon galleries. During a journey lasting nearly 7 years the Hayabusa space probe touched down on the dry surface of the Itokawa asteroid and gathered samples of mineral dust from the asteroid. Hayabusa is one of the most remarkable space missions and a forerunner for future unmanned space probes.
I was pleased to work with Prof Takashi Kubota, senior member of the Hayabusa Team in November this year at the Asia Pacific Regional Space Agency Forum and a highlight of this event was the judging of the international water rocket competition.
15 December 2010
It has been another eventful and rewarding year for Questacon with major construction work in and around the Centre completed with a new and improved ticketing, café and rear science court. The external Science and Humanities Campus has also been completed and Questacon staff have tried to limit the amount of disruption to our visitors.
A few other highlights from the year were:
The Our Water exhibition opened on 14 May with 28 interactive exhibits asking visitors what they would do if they were in control of Australia's water. This exhibition was a result of a successful partnership between Questacon and the National Water Commission and is an example of how government agencies can inform and engage with the community on important issues. If you are travelling over the holiday period, Our Water, will be in Maitland and Brisbane. For dates and venues visit Our Water.
Questacon's multimedia studio has been a great success and has significantly increased access to community and education groups through interactive, digital broadband technology.
The Prime Minister's Prizes for Science was held in the Great Hall at Parliament House on 17 October. The Prizes are awarded annually for outstanding achievements in science and science teaching. Questacon is responsible for the administration of the Prime Minister's Prizes for Science along with other National Initiatives. The Prizes are a tribute to the important contributions that our scientists and inspirational science teachers are making to Australia's current and future scientific capabilities. The top prize for excellence in teaching in primary schools was awarded to Matthew McCloskey and the prize for excellence in teaching in secondary schools was awarded to Debra Smith. For more information see the Prime Minister's Prize for Science Website.
The Questacon Volunteer Explainers Program celebrated 30 years of volunteering at Questacon; the Questacon Excited Particles celebrated 10 years, the Questacon website celebrated 15 years, and the Shell Questacon Science Circus celebrated its 25th anniversary. The Science Circus is a travelling outreach program that tours around regional Australia for 18-20 weeks each year. Enthusiastic science graduates bring lively science shows to towns and schools. More about the Shell Questacon Science Circus.
With the festive season almost upon us, I hope that you and your family are able to visit us over the holiday period and I look forward to welcoming you all to the Q Club members' night on Thursday 9 December.
On behalf of all the staff and volunteers here at Questacon have a cheerful and safe festive season.
1 December 2010
Hot Rocks Warm Seas - Day 1
As a Board Member of the Association of Science and Technology Centers (ASTC) I attend the Annual Conference which fortuitously this year is in Hawaii.
Having recently returned from visiting one unique geological locality in Iceland I now find myself in another remarkable volcanic locality. Iceland is volcanically active because a mantle plume sits under the mid-ocean ridge setting. Hawaii is volcanically active because a mantle plume sits underneath the western part of the Pacific tectonic plate.
The Hawaiian Islands all result from volcanic activity that has built a pile of lava from the deep ocean floor to emerge above sea-level for a short period of geological time before being eroded away and submerging due to cooling and subsidence. Bathymetric surveys of the Pacific Ocean show that there is a chain of submarine mountains running north-westwards from Hawaii. As these former volcanoes submerge they progressively get covered in sediment raining down from the ocean plankton. By drilling into this sediment it is possible to show that the age of the submarine volcanic hills increases to the north-west. The oldest sediment on top of former volcanoes furthest away from Hawaii dates back some 80 million years. This means that the mantle plume now beneath Hawaii has been active for 80 million years and that the Pacific Plate has progressively moved over the mantle hot spot leaving a trace of the heat and volcanic activity as a chain of volcanic islands and undersea mountains (seamounts).
There is more geology to come but firstly let me tell you about the ASTC conference which is being hosted by the Bishop Museum.
This year's conference has attracted around 1200 people from 40 countries with the conference theme 'Navigating to the Future' reflecting the Polynesian sea-faring achievements. As I Board Member I was welcomed in a culturally sensitive fashion and spent the first day with two extremely aromatic garlands. An 8-hour meeting in a hotel room looking out to Waikiki Beach was a particularly cruel way of conducting the necessary ASTC Board business.
During the conference a Questacon presentation about our on-line and new media work attracted good attention and interest. As well as the keynote speeches and conference sessions the ASTC conference has a trade show for exhibit and experience developers.
As the picture shows I was able to meet our new RoboThespian exhibit that will be arriving in Canberra around December. I was also able to meet up with the Israeli fabricators of our new lithophone exhibit that will be placed in the newly landscaped area outside Questacon and I can report good progress with tuning up the limestone rock slabs prior to their mounting.
A conference reception hosted by the Bishop Museum allowed us to view their 'Hot Rocks Theatre' and their science show that features pouring molten lava.
4th October 2010
Questacon's dinosaurs to get a new lease on life
You may have seen recent media coverage regarding the departure of Questacon's Terrorsaurus exhibition. After more than 20 years at Questacon the dinosaurs will be gifted to the Scienceworks science centre to form part of an exciting new experience in Melbourne. The last day for visitors to see the Terrorsaurus exhibition is Sunday 29 August 2010.
The Terrorsaurus exhibition has toured nationally and internationally during its life at Questacon including tours to Thailand and a 15 month stay at Currumbin on the Gold Coast.
Questacon strives to provide a dynamic experience for all visitors. With more than 440 000 visitors to the Centre in Canberra each year, it is imperative that we continue to provide new hands-on experiences appropriate for all ages.
While we understand that the Terrorsaurus exhibition will be missed by many of our younger visitors, I encourage the parents and carers of preschool aged children to explore the other experiences available for this age group including Mini Qfun for 0-6 year olds and Science Time. Many of Questacon's exhibitions designed for older age groups have individual tot spot exhibits suitable for 0-6 year olds.
Our exhibition concept, design and fabrication team are currently working on the newest addition to Questacon's suite of interactive exhibitions. H20 Soak up the Science is planned to open in November 2010 in the gallery currently occupied by the Terrorsaurus exhibition.
H20 Soak up the Science will explore the different properties of water and what makes it so special. The centrepiece of H2O is the hydrotram. At nearly seven metres tall, the hydrotram will show water in all its forms; as the water moves through and down the hydrotram it will take the form of mist, steam and fog, as well as flowing water.
As Australia's National Science and Technology Centre, Questacon aims to provide exhibitions that explore and explain important scientific issues such as water and water conservation to the broader Australian community. In portraying cutting-edge science, Questacon aspires to engage and inspire the next generation of Australian scientists.
6 August 2010
Questacon Smart Moves Invention Convention
Australia has a strong tradition of innovation and invention. This morning I was pleased to welcome the next generation of young Australian inventors to the Questacon Smart Moves Invention Convention.
The importance of invention and innovation cannot be understated. Our environment, economy and our communities are underpinned by innovation and creativity. Everyone, especially our Invention Convention delegates, has an important role to play.
Each year the Invention Convention brings together innovative young Australians aged between 14 and 18 to take part in workshops and seminars to equip them with skills to make their ideas a reality. This year 22 delegates from every state and territory are attending the Invention Convention.
Delegates have brought with them ideas ranging from a new way to support a broken or damaged arm, a computer fridge that uses barcodes to monitor expiration dates and produce shopping lists, an electric sign that allows motorists to communicate with each other and improve road safety and a multifunctional baby care unit.
As the 2010 Invention Convention delegates have demonstrated, identifying a problem and working towards a practical solution is at the heart of invention. However, turning their ideas into a product or a business is the key challenge.
I look forward to getting to know this year’s delegates and I hope to see their ideas and innovations come to fruition in the not too distant future.
7 July 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 6
Iceland is aptly named. Several thick ice sheets cap the volcanic mountains and feed glaciers. In common with most glaciers around the world, Iceland’s glaciers are receding. Volcanic activity under the ice will speed up the melting process and a good portion of the Gigjökull glacier was lost during the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. Clear glacial ice on a black sand beach is not a sight familiar to Australians but it is a feature of the coast below Vatnajökull, Iceland’s largest and thickest ice cap. One of the glaciers from Vatnajökull ends in a coastal lagoon where large blocks of ice float around and slowly melt or get carried out to sea.
Carbonated mineral water is a popular drink at restaurants. In Iceland there are naturally carbonated mineral waters where carbon dioxide from the volcanic activity bubbles through the spring. Not surprisingly it tastes just as good as bottled water! The spring at the eastern end of the Snaefellsnes Peninsula is one of many such springs that are found off the main axis of volcanic activity.
Snaefellsnes is a remarkable locality dominated by the towering Snaefellsjökull volcano at its western end. This volcano has been immortalised by Jules Verne as the starting point of the journey to the centre of the world. Sadly scientists are unable to travel into the mantle and core so have to rely on geophysical and geochemical studies to reveal what is going on below. Magma that erupts from volcanoes is produced by melting in the upper mantle and what happens to that liquid between production and final eruption can be worked out from studies of its chemistry. Magmas from the mantle start off rich in elements such as magnesium but progressively become richer in silica and poorer in magnesium due to a process known as fractional crystallisation. As the magma slowly cools crystals can form and become separated from the remainder of the liquid magma, thereby changing its composition. Magnesium-rich olivine is one of the minerals that crystallises out early on.
Iceland’s volcanic rocks are mainly dark grey varieties of basalt, rich in magnesium and pale pink rhyolite. The two contrasting rock types are clearly seen as boulders on a beach at the foot of Snaefellsjökull.
The Snaefellsnes peninsula reveals a range of text-book examples of volcanic phenomena from relatively recent cinder cones and lavas to sub-glacial rhyolites.
Stykkisholmur on the northern part of the peninsula is the home of Professor Haraldur Sigurdsson the renowned Icelandic volcanologist who I was able to meet at his gallery that displays volcanic art from around the world. Using a block of one of the world’s youngest rocks, erupted only a few days ago from Eyjafjallajökull, Professor Sigurdsson was able to explain the sequence of that eruption in detail and also outline some of the research work still needed to fully understand Icelandic geology.
This short trip to Iceland was sandwiched between speaking engagements at the European science centres annual conference and an International Forum on the Square Kilometre Array telescope project. It was a privilege to return to my geological roots and to the remarkable volcanic and glacial landscapes of Iceland. I am grateful for the kindness shown to me during my visit including being driven some 2500kms to visit key localities. I hope to be able to share my images and stories of Icelandic volcanoes at an early opportunity. I came to see and understand more about the Eyjafjallajökull eruption. The weather prevented a flight over the summit crater but did allow access to the crater above Gigjökull in the Thorsmork valley. At the time of my flight out of Iceland, the authorities have closed this valley to public access since a large body of water is collecting in the summit crater and any resumption of volcanic or earthquake activity could trigger another devastating flood.
22 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 5, Part 2
Eyjafjallajökull was a comparatively small eruption that brought Europe to its knees. There are much bigger volcanoes in Iceland that could cause disruption not only from ash but also from pollution and changes to the weather in northern Europe.
Around 935 AD a 75km long section of the rift zone was erupting basalt lava for several years. The lavas flowed tens of kilometres from the fissure and now covers an area around 750 square kilometres. In 1783 another huge 27km long fissure eruption near Laki produced extensive lavas. The ash and gas from these two eruptions caused devastating effects in Iceland and Europe with ill-health and famine on an unprecedented scale due to climate change, ash particles and poisonous gases. The weather across Europe was severely affected by the estimated 122 million tons of sulphur dioxide erupted during the 1783 Laki eruption. Much more was produced in the 935 AD eruption. These eruptions were believed to have been the trigger for important historical events. It is likely that other such eruptions will occur but it is hard to predict when these might be.
Travelling around Iceland it is interesting to note the different vegetation cover on the older and younger lava flows. Lavas older than 1000 years have a thick growth of moss whereas younger lavas have little vegetation.
21 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 5, Part 1
Volcanoes are usually classified as active, dormant or extinct. Iceland has all three with around 30 currently deemed to be active. This does not mean that the volcanoes are in a continuous state of eruptive activity but rather that there is a high level active magma chamber beneath the volcano and that there is the potential for an eruption. Eruptions can be triggered by a number of things. An earthquake can fracture the roof of the magma chamber, pressure can build up from below or new hotter magma can enter a cooler magma chamber of somewhat different composition.
Magma mixing has been the trigger for a number of historic Icelandic eruptions including that of Askja in 1875. This explosive eruption produced a vast amount of pumice that contains light a dark streaks indicative of mixed basalt and rhyolite magmas.
A lot of exciting things happen in magma chambers underneath volcanoes but these are often not revealed until millions of years of erosion have removed the upper parts of the volcano and exposed the crystallised magma of the chamber. As a magma cools crystals of minerals such as olivine can start to form and settle out. As more and more minerals crystallise out, the composition of the remaining magma changes to become richer in silica and other elements. In this way a silica-poor basalt from the upper mantle can produce a silica-rich rhyolite. The longer the period between eruptions, the greater the compositional change can be and the more explosive the eruption since volatiles are also concentrated.
Rhyolite magmas tend to be very viscous and when they erupt they produce thick short flows of glassy obsidian as seen in the Landmannalaugar area. Rhyolite eruptions under ice produce thick piles of hyaloclastite (broken glass) and these rocks weather to spectacular pink coloured hills that are a conspicuous feature of the Icelandic landscape.
The 1104 eruption of Hekla produced some 2.5 cubic kilometres of rhyolitic pumice. The 1947 eruption by way of contrast produced a smaller but still substantial amount of basaltic scoria that covers the ground to the north and west of the volcano. Hekla has erupted at least 23 times in the historic period since settlement of Iceland. Regarded by many medieval Europeans as the gateway to hell, Hekla is probably Iceland’s best known volcano but one which is difficult to predict. The magma chamber is full and it could erupt again at any time.
17 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 4, Part 3
The combination of ice and volcanic fire is one of the characteristic features of Iceland. When a volcano erupts under ice the heat produces a vast amount of water that can burst from the glacier causing extensive erosion and flooding. Such glacier-bursts or jokullhaulps are capable of moving boulders the size of cars in hot sediment laden water.
The eruption of Eyjafjallajökull produced a significant amount of flooding as well as the ash clouds. The mixing of hot magma at 1000 degrees and cold water in a volcanic vent can cause steam explosions that fragment the magma into tiny particles. When the vent becomes blocked to water then it is possible for the magma to arrive at the surface and erupt. If this surface is still under ice then the lava tunnels its way from the vent melting through the ice.
This is what happened at the northern flanks of Eyjafjallajökull during one of the later phases of the eruption in early May 2010. A flight over this part of the volcano reveals the lava cutting into the Gigjökull glacier and the deeply eroded canyons from the meltwater.
Geologists have known for a number of years that magma was moving below Eyjafjallajökull. Icelandic scientists constantly measure earthquake activity, slope elevation and gas composition, to help predict eruptions and warn residents of danger. Shallow focus earthquake activity has been building up at this locality for a number of years but it is impossible to predict just when an eruption will occur until just before it happens.
The first phase of the current Eyjafjallajökull eruption started on March 20th when a 500m long fissure erupted on the eastern side of the volcano building up scoria cones from a series of small vents along the fissure. The largest scoria cone was just under 50m high. A small lava flow moved from this fissure and flowed spectacularly into a nearby canyon. This phase of activity ceased in early April.
The second phase of activity focussed on the top crater of the volcano under its ice cap. Explosive activity producing enormous dark clouds of ash hit the headlines around the world. The ash was carried up some 8km and then spread out mainly to the south and west. Skies were clear to the north of the volcano but a significant volume of meltwater flowed from beneath the Gigjökull glacier into the Markafjlot river.
After April 20 less water entered then vent and less ash was produced. This allowed glowing red magma to erupt at the surface changing the character of the photographs captured by the many photographers drawn to Iceland. A quick Google image search reveals some wonderful images.
In early May the character of volcanism changed again with the vent opening above Gigjökull. Apart from occasional steam explosions, Eyjafjallajökull is now quiet. Further eruptions are possible but for the time being attention is focussed on the neighbouring Katla volcano under the Myrdalsjökull ice cap. This has the prospect of producing a more devastating eruption but fortunately it is quiet for the time being. However the strong smell of sulphur coming from the Solheimajökull glacier under Myrdalsjökull is a reminder that geothermal and fumarolic activity is happening under the ice.
The Eyjafjallajökull eruption demonstrates the variability of both eruptive activity and the associated erosion and sedimentation. Volcanoes that erupt under ice produce a fascinating range of volcanic and sedimentary rocks. Elsewhere in Iceland it is possible to see dramatic landscapes produced by volcanic activity under the more extensive ice sheets of the last ice age.
16 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 4, Part 2
Most of the fine ash from the 2010 eruption at Eyjafjallajökull was blown to the south and south east during the eruption causing problems for the local farms and communities and disrupting flights further afield. Photographs of the eruption show that one side of the volcano has clear skies whereas the other side is towered over by dark billowing clouds. This is not unusual and it demonstrates that the prevailing wind direction is a critical factor is determining who cops it.
The 2010 ash is very fine indeed. Other Icelandic volcanoes produce coarser material or tephra during eruptions. The volcano Hekla has erupted many times in its history and is due for another eruption sometime soon. The last big eruption of Hekla in 1947 produced macadamis-sized dark scoria (basaltic pumice) fragments that formed a layer over the ground predominantly to the north and west of the volcano. Another eruption of Hekla in 1104 produced very thick deposits of similar-sized white pumice fragments. Each of the different layers of ash, scoria and pumice from the different volcanoes can be analysed and found to be distinctive. They can be dated in a relative sense, ie this layer is on top of that layer, and the date of the eruption can be determined by radiometric dating.
Ash, scoria and pumice produced during volcanic eruptions is called tephra. The study of the different layers is called tephrochronology. Boreholes drilled through sediments in Scotland show evidence of volcanic ash from Iceland that is from bigger eruptions than that of Eyjafjallajökull. This means that sooner or later European airflights could again be disrupted depending upon which way the wind is blowing at the time.
15 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 4, Part 1
The first sign of the recent volcanic activity, apart from the fine dust in the air, is the road works. When Eyjafjallajökull erupted under the ice it produced a large amount of floodwater that threatened the bridges on the main road around Iceland. Thinking quickly, the authorities dug away the road in several places to allow the sediment laden floodwaters to reach the sea without destroying the road bridges. After the floodwaters subsided the roads were repaired with the expensive bridges intact.
The second sign of the recent volcanic activity was the film crew interviewing famous Icelandic geologist Haraldur Sigurdsson by the side of the road.
Access to the volcanoes summit is still closed for safety reasons but it was possible to drive to the base of Eyjafjallajökull along Thorsmork to the north. This allowed access across the ash-covered landscape to Gigjökull, a glacier and part of the ice sheet from which the floodwaters emerged. A beautiful glacial lagoon and popular tourist attraction has disappeared to be replaced by thick ash deposits covering everything in a thick grey blanket.
Occasional distant explosions from the summit were a sign that although the volcanic activity is diminishing, it has not yet ceased. Just a few weeks ago, ash from Eyjafjallajökull closed the airspace across Europe but already grey is giving way to green as the land recovers. However layers of ash and tephra from different volcanic eruptions that can be seen at several locations show that it will only be a short time period until the next eruption from one or other of Iceland’s volcanoes.
11 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 3
Geysir is known worldwide for the phenomenon of jets of hot water periodically jetting into the air. Geysir itself is not active at present but its neighbour Strokkur is a regular performer every five or six minutes.
Hot water is what keeps much of Reykjavik warm in the winter. A geothermal power plant close to Thingvellir lake heats water that is pumped uphill to a point from which it can flow some 25 kms downhill to Reyjavik and into a system that distributes heat to Icelandic homes. 30% of Reyjavik’s heating is supplied from this source.
Thingvellir is a location where the stretching and downfaulting of the Icelandic crust is very noticeable with gaping cracks, some filled with water, cutting through the lavas of the valley floor.
10 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 2
The Reykjanes Peninsula is made up of broken lava fields and black basaltic sand. Mosses grow on the surface of the flows and the amount of growth can help determine the relative ages of the different lava flows, some only a few thousand years old in this location.
Geothermal activity is conspicuous with plumes of steam from geothermal plants visible from a distance. These geothermal plants use steam heated by the hot rocks of the Icelandic crust.
In addition to significant geothermal power, Iceland has reliable hydro-electric power generation. This power source is used to produce aluminium from Australian bauxite that is shipped across the planet to use cheap energy. The aluminium is sold on to European car manufacturers who then export some cars back to Australia!
Boiling mud pools are a surface feature of the high geothermal activity. A sulphurous smell is all pervasive.
9 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Day 1
Flying into Iceland it was possible to glimpse a distant view of the Eyjafjallajökull volcano steaming away but not erupting the dense clouds of ash that had closed down European airspace a few weeks ago.
Iceland’s main airport at Keflavik is close to Reykjanes where the Mid-Atlantic Ridge comes ashore. This is the principal reason for Iceland’s extensive volcanic activity as the ocean crust is pulled apart by plate tectonic forces. Evidence for this crustal stretching can be seen as gaping fissures cutting across older lava flow near the airport.
Iceland is the only part of a mid-ocean ridge that is above sea-level because a long-lasting plume of magma from the mantle sits underneath the island causing the volcanic activity at the surface.
There are three main types of volcano seen in Iceland, fissure eruptions from cracks along the ridge axis, central volcanoes where magma sits in cylindrical magma chamber at a high level within the crust, and shield volcanoes which bring hot magma to the surface from greater depth in the upper mantle.
Each of these types of volcano looks and behaves in a different way. Since Iceland is an island and since there have been extensive ice caps during glacial episodes, each of Iceland’s three types of volcano can erupt under water, under ice or into the air. This creates an interesting diversity of volcanic landforms that makes Iceland such an interesting place to visit.
8 June 2010
Hot Rocks, Cool Seas - Introduction
That’s me in 1981 at Iceland’s Krafla volcano with one foot on the North American tectonic plate and one foot on the Eurasian tectonic plate.
I’m travelling to Iceland to have a look at some of the geothermal activity, looking at boiling mud pools, fumarolic activity, Geysir, and looking at some of the products of the volcanic activity. One of the highlights for me will be visiting the Eyjafjallajökull volcano that’s just been erupting and producing a lot of volcanic ash that’s been causing a bit of disruption in the northern hemisphere.
7 June 2010
Our Water exhibition
Questacon was pleased to have the Minister for Climate Change, Energy Efficiency and Water, Senator Penny Wong, officially launch our latest travelling exhibition, Our Water, on Friday 14 May 2010.
Developed by Questacon and sponsored by the National Water Commission, the Our Water exhibition challenges visitors to investigate water from an urban, agricultural, industrial and environmental perspective.
The 28 interactive exhibits ask visitors what they would do if they were in control of Australia’s water and invite them to examine the consequences of the different uses and re-uses of water in Australia.
A result of a successful partnership between Questacon and the National Water Commission the Our Water exhibition is an example of how government agencies can inform and engage with the community on important issues.
The second outcome of our partnership with the National Water Commission is Questacon’s permanent exhibition, H2O soak up the science, scheduled to open in November 2010. The complementary website will ensure a world-wide audience for this exciting and important exhibition.
Our Water is an opportunity that should not be missed to gain a better understanding of Australia’s water issues and how individuals and households can save and re-use this precious resource.
Our Water will remain at Questacon in Canberra until August 2010 before embarking on a national tour to 14 locations throughout regional and metropolitan Australia.
14 May 2010
We don’t leave inspiration to chance
Questacon was honoured to recently host a visit from the Prime Minister, Minister Carr and Chief Scientist Penny Sackett on the occasion of the visit to Canberra of Australia’s latest Nobel Prize Winner Professor Elizabeth Blackburn. Questacon’s ‘Excited Particles’ presented some demonstrations for the assembled guests to introduce telomeres which form part of the work for which Professor Blackburn was honoured. Questacon’s newly refurbished Boardroom was named the Blackburn Room during the event.
Questacon is continuing to work with organisations across Australia on the development of a national science communication strategy. The report “Inspiring Australia; a national strategy for engagement with the sciences” was released by Minister Carr on February 8th at the 2010 National Conference of the Australian Science Communicators and has been well received by key stakeholders.
Questacon believes that inspiring Australians is too important to leave to chance and this is a key message in a new video about Questacon featuring ABC’s Bernie Hobbs.
Questacon was awarded the Tourist Attraction Award at the National Tourism Awards, February 26th in Tasmania. Questacon has previously won the Award in this category in 2002-3, 2005 and 2007. View a Media Release about the Award.
The capital improvements to the building are still proceeding well and although there are a few more months of disruption ahead we will have an even better facility for Questacon visitors by July. In response to the landscaping work between Questacon and the National Library we will be soon turning the foyer around by moving the café, shop and ticketing desk to improve the sense of arrival from the car-park.
1 March 2010
An inspiring year in prospect
2010 is already shaping up to be an excellent year for Questacon with strong visitor numbers and strong membership growth over the holiday period.
The capital improvements to the building are proceeding well and although there are a few more months of disruption ahead we will have an even better facility for Questacon visitors by June. In response to the landscaping work between Questacon and Lake Burley Griffin we will be soon turning the foyer around by moving the shop, café and ticketing desk to improve the sense of arrival from the car-park.
Questacon has been working with others on the development of a national science communication strategy. The report “Inspiring Australia; a national strategy for engagement with the sciences” was released by Minister Carr in early February. Questacon will have an important role to play in developing the national strategy working with organisations and individuals across the country.
Questacon’s new digital studio is nearly complete and trials are now underway. The facility will allow us to interact with schools across Australia and institutions around the world extending our capability to communicate science and share neat experiences.
Questacon will once again be representing the ACT and Capital Region in the National Tourism Awards with the award ceremony to be held on February 26th in Tasmania.
It should be an exciting year ahead!
8 February 2010
An Eventful Period for Questacon
It has once again been an eventful period for Questacon. The construction work in and around the centre is continuing on track. A new and improved café is due to open in February and the rear Science Court is scheduled for reopening in mid December. Entry to the Centre will still be via the eastern main entrance while the Science and Humanities Campus is completed. As always, Questacon’s front desk and gallery staff will do everything they can to ensure the capital works within the foyer cause as little disruption as possible.
The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science, held in the Great Hall at Parliament House on 28 October, was a wonderful success. This was the first year Questacon has coordinated the event. The Prime Minister’s Prizes for Science are the nation's pre-eminent awards for excellence in science and science teaching. The Prizes are a tribute to the important contributions that our scientists and inspirational science teachers are making to Australia's current and future scientific capabilities. The top prize for excellence in teaching in primary schools went to Mr Allen Whittome and the prize for excellence in teaching in secondary schools went to Mr Len Altman. For more information see the Prime Minister’s Prize for Science Website.
2010 will be another milestone year for Questacon with the 25th birthday of the Shell Questacon Science Circus. The Shell Questacon Science Circus is a travelling science centre that tours around regional Australia for 18—20 weeks each year. Enthusiastic science graduates bring lively science presentations to towns and schools. Since 1985 the Shell Questacon Science Circus has been the benchmark from which all other science centre outreach program around the world have been measured. More about the Shell Questacon Science Circus.
With holiday season once more fast approaching I hope you and your family are able visit us over the period, whether you live in Canberra or travel from afar.
On behalf of all the staff here at Questacon have a happy and safe festive season.
30 November 2009
A Hive of Activity
The last couple of months have been busy ones for Questacon as we welcomed school holiday visitors to the Centre, toured a number of outreach programs across the country, celebrated National Science Week in August and experienced changes to our foyer and surrounds.
2009 National Science Week was the first that Questacon has coordinated. With over 1,000 events there was a full and exciting program across Australia. If you missed out on attending this year, I hope you will join us for one of the many fantastic events planned for National Science Week next year.
Questacon has been busily consulting with stakeholders around Australia as we lead the development of a proposed National Science Communications Strategy.
If you’ve visited recently you will have noticed that Questacon is a hive of building and construction activity. The external works are part of the Humanities and Science Campus which, when completed, will transform the area between the National Library of Australia and Questacon into a beautiful park, while the internal works will improve visitor access and flow to the Café, Q Shop and ticketing desk. While these works have created access issues and some disruption, the end results will be both functional and spectacular.
Thank you for your patience whilst these works are progressing and please seek assistance from any of our staff if you experience related difficulties. We will continue to do what we can to ensure your visit is enjoyable.
I hope you and your family will be able to visit us at the Centre in the near future.
2 November 2009
As Director, I spend a great deal of my time seeking resources and building partnerships to enable Questacon to provide even more programs and services for visitors, both in the Centre and across Australia through our various Outreach Programs.
The recent 2009/10 Budget provided additional funds to support both our Outreach Programs and also to enable us to improve the amenity of the foyer area in the Questacon building. This is wonderful news and we are pleased to now embark on the planning for the allocation of the money.
Over the next 12 months we will make changes in the foyer area to improve entrance arrangements. The area outside Questacon is being landscaped and this will redirect most visitors from the car-park through the café entrance soon to be redesigned as our front door. To achieve this we will change the position of the reception counter, café and the shop. The design work is underway and we will share that with you as the plans develop.
We are keen to ensure that your comfort and amenity is maintained through this refurbishment period. There will be information provided as the works commence and your comments will be welcomed through the usual feedback mechanisms currently in place.
The Questacon Management team is also developing a five year plan for the Outreach Programs, with considerations of what the new funding can achieve. Once completed it will be made available here on the Questacon website.
Our partnership work with the National Water Commission is proceeding well and Questacon’s new concepts team are currently working up ideas for an exhibition on the science of water in Australia. The all new Perception Deception exhibition is looking wonderful. I encourage you all to come in and discover that ‘reality’ isn’t all it seems!
2 July 2009
Earth Hour 2009
At 8.30 pm this Saturday 28 March people all over the world will be switching their lights off as part of Earth Hour. The World Wildlife Fund organised Earth Hour is a chance for individuals to make a statement encouraging world leaders to take a stand on climate change. By switching off the lights in your house for just one hour this Saturday you can contribute to a global effort to reduce carbon emissions.
Earth Hour started in Sydney in 2007 when two million people and businesses turned off their lights. In 2008 the number of people involved grew to 50 million with several international landmarks, including the Golden Gate Bridge, and the Coca-Cola sign in Times Square, New York turning off their lights. In 2009, the organisers are hoping that all up over 1 billion people will take part in the effort and the findings from Earth Hour will be presented at the Global Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen later this year.
Australia is one of 81 countries and Questacon one of over 18 000 businesses signed on to participate in Earth Hour. Along with other national institutions around Lake Burley Griffin and science centres around the world, Questacon will be turning off our lights for an hour on Saturday night.
If you’re interested in doing your part for Earth Hour download a copy of Questacon’s Earth Hour Experiment Guidebook. This step by step guide will help you calculate your household’s energy savings during Earth Hour.
23 March 2009
International Year of Astronomy
2009 is the International Year of Astronomy which will be a year-long, worldwide, public celebration of astronomy, held to mark the 400th anniversary of Galileo turning a telescope to the sky. IYA2009 has been endorsed by UNESCO and is being coordinated by the International Astronomical Union, the international body that represents the world’s professional astronomers. Australia is one of the 63 countries signed up to participate.
Questacon is currently celebrating 20 years as Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre and 20 years in the current building, the design of which was strongly influenced by Jai Singh’s early 18th C astronomical observatories - particularly the one in Dehli.
It is appropriate then that Questacon hosted the Australian launch of the International Year of Astronomy by astronomer and Chief Scientist Professor Penny Sackett on January 28th. Over 100 guests attended the launch which featured a talk by the Chief Scientist, live links to the Anglo Australian Observatory at Coonabarrabran and the Gemini telescope in Chile and a viewing of a film about the SKA project produced for international planetaria and space theatres by Scitech as part of the Questacon-Scitech SKA educational program partnership.
Questacon is one of some 2400 science centres world-wide that together last year attracted 290 million people to their centres and programs. The world science centre community is in a position to influence a significant number of people, school students, teachers and families, each year. Most of those science centres are heavily involved in International Year of Astronomy education and public awareness activities supporting the aim to get 10 million people looking through a telescope for the first time.
Questacon will be working with science centres around the world to participate in the International Year of Astronomy in such programs as the ‘100hours of Astronomy’ held between April 2-5 and working to develop the ‘Sound of the Stars’ on-line interactive educational resource. Questacon will also be celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Moon landing in July which has special meaning for Canberra because of the role played by the Honeysuckle Creek receiving station in relaying images of the landing to the world community.
The Chief Scientist’s speech at the IYA launch reminded guests that Australia is very good at astronomical research and that astronomy captures the public imagination at all levels. Professor Sackett urged us all was to take some time out to look at the night skies during 2009.
The full list of Australian International Year of Astronomy activities can be found on their website.
5 March 2009
This has been another busy and rewarding year for Questacon.
If you are lucky enough to get a break this festive season I hope you enjoy yourself and come and visit us whether you live locally or have to travel to Canberra.
Best wishes of the season to you and your family.
1 December 2008
20 Years of Science
Questacon, Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre celebrates 20 years of inspirational science this year.
From a modest, volunteer-run science centre, to the national institution that stands on the shore of Lake Burley Griffin today, Questacon has become one of the world’s leading science centres and a major innovator in informal learning.
As an established leader in science communication, Questacon plays a critical role in supporting formal education to stimulate interest in science, technology and innovation and its importance to all Australians. Questacon is proud of its world-class standing, its extensive national reach, the quality of its exhibitions and programs, all of which are due to the people behind these achievements.
Our achievements over the past 20 years reflect the dedication of a highly skilled team. To our staff and volunteers and Advisory Council Members, past and present, I extend my thanks and congratulations for their commitment, creativity and enthusiasm. Building on our achievements in the past 20 years, we can look to a future of new opportunities to make a difference to the lives of people across the nation.
In this anniversary year, it is timely to honour Questacon’s foundational relationship with Japan. Australia’s National Science and Technology Centre opened on 23 November 1988 as a joint Australia-Japan Bicentennial Project. The Japanese Government and business community contributed half the cost of the building, the hub of Questacon’s national and international activities. A number of special events and activities to celebrate this relationship have been held this year, with more to come.
Questacon values the support and contribution of our corporate and strategic partners. Together with these partners, Questacon has developed exhibitions and programs that bring stimulating and inspiring hands-on science experiences to communities across the length and breadth of Australia.
It is a great honour to be Questacon’s Director and I look forward to playing a part in establishing the direction for Questacon’s next 20 years!
15 October 2008
Let’s save the planet!
Questacon’s recent ‘Rock your world’ geology day was of particular interest to me as a geologist. I always believed, and still do, that knowing some geology gives perspective about the world around us and the immense time-scales involved for most geological processes. Humans now seem to be a geological force because our collective actions are rapidly changing the surface of our planet and its atmosphere.
The rapid build-up of carbon dioxide in Earth’s atmosphere is a matter of great concern to scientists. For much of Earth’s long history the carbon dioxide has been locked up in rocks, coal and oil and it is now being released into the atmosphere contributing to global warming.
I have just returned from the 5th Science Centres World Congress in Toronto, Canada, a meeting of science centre leaders from 51 countries. One of the keynote speakers was an Inuit leader who was speaking about their loss of culture and traditional ways of life as the Arctic ice melts. This is the human dimension of global warming. It is probably too late to reverse the warming trends in the Arctic which is particularly vulnerable but working collectively we can slow down further warming.
Questacon is part of a global network of science centres that exist in most countries irrespective of geography, economic situation, economy, culture or religion. There are about 2500 science centres worldwide and the various centres, exhibitions and outreach programs are attended by 290 million people annually, mainly young children and families.
Collectively science centres have great impact and the centres, their audiences and members can be a powerful force for good in the world by working together to overcome cultural, physical, social, economic and geographic barriers to connect people through science and education. Members of our Q Club are also part of that global network of people committed to do what they can to make a difference through education leading to action.
At the 5th Science Centres World Congress I signed, on behalf of Questacon, the Toronto Declaration, a statement of intent from the world science centre community. This declaration commits Questacon to help make a difference in issues such as global warming. We need you to help. If 290 million people worldwide make changes in their lifestyles to reduce energy use then this will be an important contribution. Imagine if every visitor to all science centres planted a tree each year.
The full Toronto Declaration is online at the World Congress web site. I hope that you will take the time to read it and join us as part of the efforts of the world community.
23 June 2008