The ANU National Centre of the Public Awareness of Science (NCPWA), along with Questacon, has this year launched the Science Circus Africa Project, reaching 41,000 children in Africa as part of an 11-week tour showcasing inspiring science.
Dr Graham Walker, Science Circus Africa Project Officer, said the project was “a brainchild of colleagues from the NCPWA and friends at Questacon – both organisations who have been active in Africa with science in the past”.
The project is an expansion of the Shell Questacon Science Circus (SQSC), run jointly by the ANU and Questacon – where students studying a Master of Science Communication Outreach bring interactive science shows to regional communities and schools across Australia.
ANU PhD student Matthew Dunn, a graduate of the SQSC, explained that: “The Science Circus gets students involved with some really spectacular science.”
“One of my favourite things about it is that it’s really focused on the rural and regional areas that often don’t have access to as much in terms of science experiences,” he said.
Dr. Walker and his team, in taking the Circus to Africa, transformed simple, everyday objects such as magnets and bicarbonate soda into fascinating experiments. These were designed to engage local communities in homegrown science communication across Mauritius, South Africa, Botswana, Zambia and Malawi.
In discussing the difficulties in transferring the Circus model from regional Australian communities to those they visited on the African tour, Dr Walker stated that there were two types – logistical and scientific.
“Logistical issues included everything from coordinating ferry crossings to explaining to border guards why we had so much weird equipment with us…”
“The science challenges were more interesting than difficult – we made a lot of effort to make the science relevant to everyday life in Africa.”
Emphasising long term benefits, Dr Walker and his team followed the Australian model of putting the focus on building up skills for presenters in the countries they visited. This included training a group of locals and donating equipment to them, “So they can keep up with the Circus after we’d left,” Dr Walker stated.
With a hope to keep the Circus growing, Dr Walker expressed that the big barrier was funding, however there were ‘’promising local partners” in Zimbabwe and Tanzania.
“Planting that seed that then grows into homegrown travelling science education, done by Africa by Africans, is the biggest benefit that we – and now they – could bring.”