Questacon’s relationship with ANU began even before Questacon existed. This strong and lasting relationship has brought together academia and practice, influencing and enhancing both organisations.
Questacon’s founder, Professor Mike Gore AO, was inspired to create Questacon while working as a physics lecturer at ANU and the first version of Questacon was a mini-science centre in the back room of the ANU Physics department.
After Professor Gore was successful in receiving a National Schools Commission National Innovations Grant to set-up a hands-on science centre, the new centre needed a name. In the spirit of some of the exhibits, deftly cobbled together from found objects, ANU Professor Chris Bryant put together the Latin root – quaere, to inquire – with the early English one – con, to study and so coined the name Questacon. On 18 September 1980, Questacon opened its doors in Ainslie as an ANU project and science students from ANU were among those who volunteered to engage, educate and inspire the visitors.
When Questacon first headed out on the road, beginning in 1985, the tours were supported by Questacon ”Explainers” including ANU students. These early tours evolved into the Questacon Science Circus which continued to be delivered by ANU students for the next 37 years.
In 1987, students were offered an ANU scholarship for their year with the Science Circus, which later developed into a Graduate Certificate and then Graduate Diploma to formally recognise the knowledge and skills developed while delivering the Science Circus. These academic qualifications in science communication were the first of their kind in the world, and the relationship between these programs and the Science Circus was unparalleled at the time.
In 1988, the formal relationship between ANU, Questacon and Shell Australia was established to support the Science Circus and ANU continues to be a Founding Partner of the Questacon Science Circus.
ANU’s commitment to teaching and research in science communication continued with the opening of the Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS) in 1996. CPAS took over the delivery of the Graduate Diploma, which then grew into the Master of Science Communication Outreach, providing a deeper academic grounding for the Science Circus scholars. The relationship between ANU and Questacon allowed Science Circus scholars to study science communication at ANU while delivering the Science Circus on the road. This approach broke down the barriers between academic and practical science communication, fusing theory and practice, and enhancing both sides of the program as knowledge and developments were shared.
The partnership between ANU and Questacon has not only inspired people across Australia but has also made an impact internationally. Science Circus Africa, a collaboration between Questacon, ANU the Ducere Foundation and partners in South Africa, Botswana, Zambia, Mauritius, Namibia and Malawi have been delivering touring workshops, exhibitions and science shows since 2015. This ANU-led project, managed and implemented by Science Circus graduates alongside African partners, has engaged with over 70,000 people, building capacity and promoting knowledge exchange on science communication, science outreach and science centres between Africa and Australia.
Over the years, there have been over 500 ANU students who have participated in placements at Questacon and in the Science Circus. These alumni have worked all over the world in media, education, cultural institutions, academia, government, private enterprise, and industry. Questacon has also provided a fertile setting for a variety of ANU research projects on everything from science shows to public health.
The relationship between ANU and Questacon is continuing to go from strength to strength, with ANU students currently completing placements across Questacon teams to gain diverse experience in program design and delivery, exhibit development, evaluation and more. The next 35 years are looking bright for both Questacon and ANU as we continue to work together to strengthen science communication in Australia.