About this year’s circus
It’s the countdown to show time. As afternoon shadows lengthen under a sapphire Queensland sky, families mill about the forecourt of the Chinchilla Cultural Centre, eagerly awaiting the evening’s entertainment to begin.
Today is the day the Shell Questacon Science Circus has come to town; a travelling roadshow of equal parts education and vaudeville.
The staging is set: the lights are on and the props are in place. At the stroke of 4pm, the doors to the cultural centre fly open.
Hundreds of excitable children stream in clutching their parents’ hands, dragging them to a hall of imaginative exhibits for them to explore: whirligig machines and contraptions that spin, dazzle and mesmerise.
This is science in action: lasers, prisms, projections, refractions, chemistry and physics all wrapped up in an evening of fun, colour and action designed to entertain, excite and exercise young minds.
For the next few hours, a talented troupe of university students will captivate Chinchilla’s children and parents with the elemental magic of science: water, air and fire. And curiously, a bed of nails.
Shell has sponsored Questacon and its travelling science circus for more than 30 years to bring science to regional Australia. Its crew of young scientists are midway through their month-long whirlwind tour of country Queensland, taking in Warwick, Toowoomba, Chinchilla, Miles, Dalby, Kingaroy, Bundaberg, Maryborough, Gympie and Caloundra.
“One of the things the science circus does is it provides parents with the opportunity to learn side by side with their kids,” says Dr Bobby Cerini, the Deputy Director, Science and Learning of Questacon – The National Science and Technology Centre, who is intently observing the science mania going on inside Chinchilla’s packed hall.
“There’s been a long-held assumption that most science learning is happening inside schools,” she says, “but in actual fact if you look at the broader research into how learning takes place...80 per cent of learning is happening outside the formal classroom.”
For Josh Adam, father of seven-year-old Haly and nine-year-old Bree − who are having a cracking time loading and firing balls through hoops and getting the trajectory just right − the Shell Questacon Science Circus exhibition gave him good reason to leave work on time.
“My wife texted me and said, ‘This is huge, you’ll have to come in here.’ So I closed the laptop at work and got here. It opens our girls’ minds, opens their eyes, to what is beyond our regional boundaries. What I really like is how engaging these guys are from Questacon and how relative they make it to young minds; they make it cool.”
The public exhibition caps off a long day for the science circus presenters, who themselves are students at the Australian National University undertaking post-graduate studies in science communications.
Leisha Duncan says being a science circus presenter enables her to ignite school students’ curiosity.
“I’m really passionate about science and showing other people how fun science can be. I hope that’s coming off in my shows and inspiring other kids to want to experiment,” she says. “It gives them the opportunity to immerse themselves and get hands-on with the science.”
The manager of the Chinchilla Chamber of Commerce Robyn Haig was not about to miss the chance to see the circus.
“My kids would not let me drive past – there was no choice – we were coming,” she says.
“They’ve been at the school and now they’ve brought their parents back to show them,” Robyn says, looking at the sea of people in the hall, “and that’s really nice linkage between education and what’s happening at home.”
“It’s another example of Shell investing in the local ‘STEM’ (science, technology, engineering and maths) education for the students,” she says.
“It’s something potentially that our kids could miss out on, but I think we’re in the hot zone of opportunity now, thanks to the ongoing commitment.”