A Questacon show is fleeting, just a couple of hours squeezed into a lifetime of experience; its potential impact unknown. But for a 7-year-old Jesse Jorgensen-Price, this singular event ignited a passion for science that would eventually bring her full circle.
The tiny district of Brimpaen, where Jesse grew up, is just a few buildings clinging to the Henty Highway in Victoria’s Wimmera region. Not a lot happens here. So when the Questacon Science Circus rolled into nearby Horsham in 1997, Jesse’s mother made a point of taking her on the 50-minute trip to the ‘big smoke’.
When they arrived, Jesse vaguely recalls that there were exhibitions everywhere. But it was the show that left the most powerful impression. “Someone did a liquid nitrogen show that just blew my little mind,” says Jesse, “things were being smashed and all sorts. What I really remember is the wonder and awe it inspired in me.”
It was a turning point in Jesse’s childhood: science became her hobby. After the show, Jesse and her mum lingered in the shop, choosing science toys that would define a big chunk of Jesse’s childhood. An avid reader, she started devouring books about science, while her mother nurtured Jesse’s growing interest. After graduating from high school, Jesse chose to study science, majoring in marine biology.
With an undergraduate degree and honours thesis under her belt, and having moved back to the Wimmera to work in Agricultural Science, Jesse found herself ‘staring down the barrel of a PhD’ – but after years of uninterrupted study she wondered if there was something else out there. By chance, Jesse spotted an ad for a degree linked to the Questacon Science Circus – triggering memories of the show that had meant so much to her as a child.
Jesse applied and was accepted into the program, a Master of Science Communication Outreach at the Australian National University. As part of the course, students participated in 3 extended tours, running pop-up exhibitions and presenting science shows in schools across Australia.
It was the last of these tours that took Jesse full circle, back to regional Victoria, where she presented a liquid nitrogen show at her former school. “I did get to go to my old high school and do a show. My 13-year-old brother was at the school, and the younger ones came along too, and mum and dad. It was a nice return to where it all started.”
The following year, Jesse got a job with Questacon, where she has been ever since. These days, her work is mostly behind the scenes: she’s National Networks manager, supporting people around the country to engage Australians with science and reach underrepresented groups, like rural and regional kids.
Jesse’s experience and continued learning through her work at Questacon has sparked a new interest in the impact of science outreach on students in regional areas. If she does embark on that long-imagined PhD, she might find herself circling back yet again – exploring the wider impact of small interventions like the one that changed her own life back in 1997.
Since 1985, the Questacon Science Circus has been bringing lively science shows to towns and primary schools across regional Australia. It is the world’s biggest and longest-running science outreach program.