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In September 1980, Questacon began as a project of The Australian National University (ANU), in an unused space at the Ainslie Public School in Canberra. It opened with 15 exhibits and was staffed entirely by volunteers.
Questacon was founded by ANU Professor Mike Gore AM, whose great love of teaching both students and the general public inspired him to develop Australia’s first interactive science centre, based on the Exploratorium in San Francisco. The name ‘Questacon’ combines two words—‘quest’ meaning ‘to discover’ and ‘con’ meaning ‘to study’.
Despite a modest beginning, by the mid-1980s Questacon had achieved national and international recognition. Today Questacon is Australia’s largest science centre and is among the world’s leading science centres.
In 1982, the Australian Bicentennial Authority proposed that a national science centre be established as a lasting memorial to the 1988 Australian Bicentenary. The first sod was turned on the site in 1986 and the building was completed in 1988 at a total capital cost of $19.64 million. The Centre was built as a joint Australia–Japan Bicentennial Project with the Japanese Government and business community contributing half the cost of the building.
On 23 November 1988, Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre was officially opened by the Hon. RJL Hawke, AC, MP, then Prime Minister of Australia.
From its inception, Questacon has had a strong national focus. In 1985 the Shell Questacon Science Circus, Australia’s first science outreach programme, commenced a successful touring programme of exhibits and science shows to regional Australia. Today the Science Circus is recognised as the most extensive and longest running touring science outreach programme in the world, celebrating its 30th birthday in 2015.
Over 10 million people have visited Questacon in Canberra, and over 32.5 million have engaged with Questacon via the Centre, travelling exhibitions, outreach or other programmes.
In October 2014, The Ian Potter Foundation generously provided Questacon a grant of $7.8 million over five years. In recognition of the grant, the Questacon Technology Learning Centre was re-named The Ian Potter Foundation Technology Learning Centre (IPTLC).
The IPTLC guides young Australians towards a path of creativity and innovation, and to consider careers in technology and engineering. It is also the hub of the Questacon Smart Skills Initiative which offers school and holiday workshops based on design, technology and the innovation process.