Wherever you are in the world, science has a presence and a potential. After more than 18 years as Chair of the Questacon Advisory Council, this is something Leon Kempler AM knows well. “You could be in Africa, New York City or Gundagai, but you can still come up with thoughts and ideas that can change the whole world. Science is global. It’s universal.”
This fits with our celebration of Questacon’s 35th year in our present location, made possible by a joint Australia–Japan bicentennial project supported by Japan’s business community, Keidanren, and Australian industry. These efforts left an enduring legacy for all Australians – and people across the globe.
Since its establishment, Questacon has been helping to realise pockets of science potential, wherever they are found. Questacon’s national programs make science accessible to rural and remote communities in Australia and abroad, while its hands-on approach inspires people who struggle in the classroom, or wouldn’t normally engage with science.
Leon has been lucky enough to witness the effects of this kind of outreach. “At Questacon, my greatest joy was seeing people go ‘Wow!’, especially when I went to remote areas of Australia and I saw people ‘get it’. I saw kids who weren’t interested in science suddenly light up, and their teachers couldn’t believe it. Everyone can be inspired by science, the same way they can be inspired by art or music. Science touches the heart and lights the soul.”
Overseas, Questacon has helped Singapore and China establish their own science centres modelled on the success of the now 35-year-old Questacon building.
Questacon has also worked with the New York Hall of Science, which teaches science and science communication to low socioeconomic youths, so that they can become teachers and role models for their peers.
Leon reflects on a visit to Japan, and how Questacon’s travelling science show did so much more than raise awareness of science. “In Japan, after the 2011 tsunami, we were there on the ground with our science communicators bringing joy and hope to people.”
Similarly, in Jakarta, Questacon presented a show about sound and music. “I remember being surrounded by dozens of young kids who were just full of joy and happiness. It just shows that science is not local – it’s a global language.”
By fostering a society that understands and is inspired by science, Questacon is helping to shape our future, as Leon explains. “Great societies embrace art, science and literature and so Questacon is a very important component in a healthy society. Whether you’re interested in chemistry, biodiversity or any field of science – you need to have an entity at a federal level, like Questacon, that reaches out to every corner of Australia. Then we need to take what we’re doing and reach it out to the rest of the world.”
Reflecting on his time with Questacon, Leon expresses his gratitude. “I followed in the steps of the most amazing people. I was very blessed to be inspired by them. Questacon is a badge of honour. I meet people who are leaders in their fields across academia, the public service and industry – and when I mention Questacon they melt. There is a real camaraderie, which is very special, and it extends internationally to those we have worked with.”
Leon has a strong vision for the future of science and Questacon.
“Science is moving fast. Scientific literacy is growing, but if you’re the best today, you can be last tomorrow if you don’t keep up. We are living in a world with things like artificial intelligence and big data, so we need to understand how to use all of this to improve humanity.
"My hope for the future is that we look at education and centres like Questacon as investments into the long term future of the nation. If we can empower young people to make informed decisions and thoughts about matters of science, technology and engineering, then we’ll live in a healthier, stronger society.”
Leon Kempler AM was Chair of the Questacon Advisory Council from to 2003 to 2022.