Meet the presenters
The Shell Questacon Science Circus presenters’ day begins early at Chinchilla Primary School, getting set for science demonstrations in the assembly hall and grounds.
Take presenter Jeshka McConnell. She’s been showing wide-eyed primary pupils the science of blowing bubbles. “In my bubble show, there’s a lot of very complicated science: there’s a lot of intermolecular forces. The real aim of my show is to demonstrate how universal science is: the fact that it’s literally in everything, including bubbles,” she says.
“I’ve had kids come up and say they want to be a ‘bubblologist’ – a completely made-up word for the narrative of my show. The shows stop science being a ‘lab coat’ or something really dry… to something that can be extravagant, or ridiculous or fun or weird,” Jeshka says.
One of her fellow presenters, Lawrence Menz, has a class of 10-year-olds transfixed as he demonstrates his ‘rubberglove-a-phone’, a comically exaggerated homemade trombone made of ever-extendable PVC pipe and a rubber glove. When blown, its pitch ranges from high honks of an angry elephant to a baritone fog horn.
“It’s to do with wavelength and energy put in,” Lawrence explains.
“The vibration starts at the rubber glove at the base of the tube, and it travels through the tube and into the air to for us to hear it. When we have a short rubberglove-a-phone it vibrates faster and it has a higher pitch. When I make it really long, it vibrates slower and has a deeper pitch.”
It’s definitely a crowd pleaser.
“You’ll see a few children that will have the bright spark, the glint in their eye and they’ll be fully engaged.
“They’re the ones you think, yes, you might go on and study science later on.”
Indeed, this is the story of one of today’s presenters, Allison Ryan, who joined the science circus after seeing it years ago when she was at school, and was inspired to study science at university.
“In 2005, the Shell Questacon Science Circus came to my school in Moree,” Allison says. “I remember seeing their shows and that awe and wonder, and discovery moment, at seeing something new I hadn’t seen before.
“That’s part of why I joined the science circus. I love working with people and doing hands-on science and getting to help other people experience those wonder-and-wow moments as well.”
Science circus presenter Aaron Flynn leaves students in awe of his leaf-blower-powered hoverboard, which he built at the Australian National University, where he and other presenters are studying science communication. When kneeling on the contraption and with a push start, even a grown adult can skim across the floor on a cushion of air, like on a magic carpet, to demonstrate the principle of friction.
“My philosophy is that we’re not here to teach kids, we’re here to inspire kids. A lot of what I’m trying to do is to make it fun and exciting,” he says.
“It’s a panel of wood, you stick a leaf blower on top, it blows out into a vinyl pillow underneath. It’s exciting, it’s really fun, it shows science: it gets the crowds that generally aren’t into science, and it also gets teachers. After every show at least one teacher will come up and ask how to make one.”
At high school performances, the theatrics go up a notch. Science circus presenter Adriana Zaja’s vacuum-powered marshmallow launcher is a hit with Miles State High School students.
“In the shows we can pick some volunteers and do our best to get people involved,” she says.
“Teachers can see how their students react in a different kind of learning environment, and they also feel better equipped to take ideas back to the classroom.”
Lawrence admits while it’s difficult to predict exactly what the world will be like in the future, learning coping skills will be vital.
“If we give the people of tomorrow the skills they need to survive and thrive in any sort of environment – so things like adaptability, resilience, innovation and the science circus is helping to generate some of those skills – if we can do that, then the people of tomorrow will have an easier, better time adapting to all the technology that’s coming their way.”