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30 YEARS OF THE SHELL QUESTACON SCIENCE CIRCUS

A group of people standing in front of a large truck.

In 2015, the Shell Questacon Science Circus celebrates its 30th year as Australia’s flagship science outreach programme. Since beginning in 1985, the Science Circus has become the most travelled and farthest-reaching programme of its kind in the world.

Since 1985, the Science Circus has covered hundreds of thousands of kilometres, reaching over 2.2 million people with multiple visits to over 500 towns and communities, including 90 remote Indigenous communities. Delivering in-school science shows, hands-on science exhibitions for regional communities as well as teacher professional development workshops.

At the core of the Science Circus is a drive to inspire young people, primarily in regional areas of Australia, to value and engage in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), and the possibilities and varied career options these fields present.

HISTORY

The Shell Questacon Science Circus came from humble beginnings as a programme of The Australian National University (ANU). In 1985, Questacon was already well established in its original location at Ainslie Public School, and the Science Circus started as a trial programme to take Questacon’s interactive science experiences to communities beyond Canberra.

In July 1985, the Science Circus team of 10 energetic young Questacon volunteer explainers hired a removalist truck to take 25 portable interactive science exhibits to Goulburn, New South Wales.

Shell was involved from the outset and in 1985 became the major sponsor, leading to an expanded programme that was able to travel greater distances.

A SUCCESSFUL PARTNERSHIP

The 30-year partnership between Shell, ANU and Questacon has been a cornerstone of the programme’s success and is an award-winning example of business, government and academia working together to deliver a programme of benefit to the community.

This partnership commitment has been formally recognised on a number of occasions, most notably with the 2004 Australian Financial Review Magazine Corporate Partnership Awards for Outstanding Long-Term Partnership, and again in 2006 when the Science Circus received the Prime Minister’s Award for Excellence in Community Business Partnerships: Special Award—Longevity.

More recently, the Science Circus was named as a top 20 finalist in the global Telefonica Fundación Education Challenge 2014, which highlights the world’s top 100 projects to promote scientific and technological careers.

A RICH TRAINING GROUND

The Science Circus forms a major component of the ANU Master of Science Communication Outreach. Each year up to 16 graduates take part in the Science Circus to complete their Masters degree. The qualification offers students the opportunity to develop their science communication skills through practical experience. By 2016, over 400 graduates will have completed the course associated with the Science Circus programme.
Science Circus graduates have taken up positions with science centres, research and development organisations, media organisations, government and industry both in Australia and overseas.

SHELL QUESTACON SCIENCE CIRCUS KEY STATISTICS

The Science Circus has:

  • Performed over 15 000 science shows in schools, resulting in 85 per cent of teachers reporting an increase to their students’ enthusiasm for science.
  • Encouraged and inspired over 5000 teachers in professional development workshops providing ideas for interactive science activities for the classroom.
  • Provided almost 400 science graduates with tertiary qualifications, skills and career pathways in science communication, many who have gone on to hold influential positions both in Australia and overseas in education, government, media and the museum sector.
  • Undertaken numerous local partnerships with regional and community-based organisations, including tertiary education institutions, industry employers, not-for-profits, government bodies and other science outreach providers. These partnerships enabled each tour programme to be tailored to meet the needs and respond to opportunities within a particular region.
  • Achieved international best-practice recognition, with many countries basing their own models for science outreach on the Science Circus model.

THE GLOBAL IMPACT OF THE SHELL QUESTACON SCIENCE CIRCUS

Recognition of the Shell Questacon Science Circus extends beyond Australia with its achievements gaining global recognition for ANU and its Australian National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science. The style of ultraportable hands-on exhibits and science shows is transferable to many regional areas and developing countries around the world. This has resulted in numerous visitors from international organisations taking the time to experience the Science Circus and Graduate Diploma (now Masters) programmes first hand.

Over the 30-year period that the Science Circus has operated in Australia it has triggered many other similar projects all over the world. In the UK, the Techniquest Science Centre in Cardiff, established a masters course in Science Media and Communication which was based on a collaboration between the science centre and the University of Cardiff. In Canada, a Science Communication graduate diploma programme was established between Science North Science Centre and the Laurentian University.

The reach of the Science Circus has also extended to international initiatives from Questacon and ANU. In the late 1980s, Questacon with the assistance of UNESCO, sent two separate touring exhibitions into nine Pacific Island nations. In July 2003 UNESCO again turned to Questacon to deliver a pilot Science Circus style education programme in Timor Leste (East Timor). Hands-on exhibits were set up on the streets of Dili, accompanied by science shows and street busking with training of locally engaged explainers and teacher workshops. The programme proved to be a success with UNESCO officials, Timor Leste government officials and the local community.

In more recent times Science Circus style exhibits and science shows have been presented in South Korea, Vietnam and Japan.  The book of Science Circus science show demonstrations was translated in 2013 for distribution schoolteachers in Vietnam and Laos.