Founder of Questacon dies at 87

Professor Mike Gore, the founder of Questacon, died in Canberra over the weekend. He was 87.

He leaves behind the legacy of Australia’s first interactive science museum, which boasts over half a million visitors each year – as well as decades of sparking Australians’ interest in physics, science, and science communication.

Born in the UK in 1934, Gore received a PhD in electrical engineering from the University of Leeds. He came to Australia in 1962, to teach physics at the Australian National University, which at that point was only 16 years old.

While teaching at ANU, Gore began to understand the importance of hands-on ways to spark interest in science. After visiting San Francisco’s Exploratorium with his family in 1975, he believed Australia would benefit from a similar interactive science museum.

Black and white photo of mike gore and bob hawke examining pendulum
Gore demonstrating a science exhibit to then-prime minister, Bob Hawke, in 1987. Credit: National Archives of Australia

Gore won a grant to develop such a museum in 1978 and, in 1980, Questacon opened its doors in a spare room of Ainslie Public School, in Canberra. There were 15 exhibits, and schools could book in to bring their students through to experiment and play with them.

Recognising that not every school could visit Canberra, Gore – along with ANU colleagues Sue Stocklemayer and Chris Bryant – started the Questacon Science Circus in 1985. This travelling science exhibition, staffed by university students, eventually spun out into its own degree.

When Questacon moved to bigger digs in 1988, officially opening its own building as the National Science and Technology Centre, Gore left academia to become its first director. He held this position until 1999, when he retired and returned to teaching at ANU.

Photo of questacon
Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre. This building was opened in 1988. Credit: Simon McGill / Getty Images

This time around, he was an adjunct professor at the National Centre for the Public Awareness of Science, which he had co-founded in 1995. He lectured there in science communication for two more decades.

Gore was made a Member of the Order of Australia for his work in 1986, followed by becoming an Officer of the Order of Australia in 2015.

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