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                The Western Australian Science Discovery Centre

                                             Perth, Western Australia

         John R. de Laeter, Department of Applied Physics, Curtin University of

            Technology, GPO Box U1987, Perth, Western Australia

In 1983 the Labor Government, led by Brian Burke, swept to power in the State election.   The Deputy Premier - the Hon. Malcolm J. Bryce - opted to take   responsibility for the Industrial Development and Technology portfolio. This was the first time that Technology was included in a Government portfolio in Western Australia, and this was to have significant ramifications.   One of the Minister's   first actions was to establish the Science, Industry and Technology Council (SITCO), with myself as Chairman. I had taught Mal Bryce science at Bunbury High School in 1959, and I presume my appointment was due to the fact that I was the only scientist he knew. The role of SITCO was to advise the Government, through the Minister, on possible science and technology initiatives which would be of long-term, strategic value to the State.

I had, for some time. nurtured the concept of an interactive science   education centre in W.A., a view which was shared by other people. Three such individuals were Mary and David Dale and Phil Jennings,   who were physicists at Murdoch University. They were active in Labor Party policy developments at the time, and at an annual conference, the Party was persuaded to include the establishment of an interactive science centre in their Platform. Whilst working in Canada I had been greatly impressed with Tuzo Wilson's   Ontario Science Centre, and had visited the Exploratorium in San Francisco, directed by Frank   Oppenheimer (Robert J. Oppenhiemer's brother - of Los Alamos fame). I believed that Western Australia would benefit from having such a Centre for two primary reasons - that it would help to reverse the declining science and mathematics enrolments at secondary school, and that it would be an entertaining and educational experience   for families and tourists. In April 1982, following a visit of Professor Tuzo Wilson to Perth, I submitted a proposal entitled "The Western Australian Science and Technology Centre" to the Australian Bicentennial Council, in which I put forward the proposition that an interactive Science Centre together with a Planetarium should be constructed in Perth. Unfortunately the application was unsuccessful.

At the first meeting of SITCO, a "brainstorming" session was held in which the idea of having a science centre was raised by a number of members, including the Minister, who had visited the Singapore Science Centre. Thus, early in 1984, a Committee of SITCO was set up, under the chairmanship of Professor Phillip Jennings, to investigate the feasibility of the concept. A seminar was held in August 1984 to ascertain public views, and the overwhelming support for the concept led, in part, to the Committee making a favourable report to SITCO in May 1985. This report led to further feasibility studies   and, in 1986,   the Government gave in-principle support to the concept provided significant financial funding was forthcoming from industry, and that a suitable site could be located.

  Mr. Kerry Stokes was appointed as the Appeal President, and Sir Laurence Brodie-Hall as Patron -in-Chief of the "Western Australian Foundation for the Museum of Contemporary Science and Technology" - the tax-free organization set up for the appeal. A sum of approximately $3 million was raised in less than a year, primarily because industry recognised the need to increase the flow of young graduates in scientific, engineering and technology-related   areas. The 1980's was a time of unprecedented economic activity in Western Australia. This was the era of "the entrepreneurs" - men like Alan Bond, Robert Holmes A'Court and Laurie Connell, fostered by the attitude of the Government of the day. Thus fundraising for Scitech was conducted in this era of excitement and corporate prosperity. So in that sense we were fortunate to raise the idea   in a sympathetic environment with both Government and industry. We were also fortunate to have the eminent mining engineer Sir Laurence    and Kerry Stokes as our advocates.

Several possible sites were considered for a Science Centre. One such site was the old Swan Brewery which was then in a somewhat derelict building. In1986, Mary and David Dale were commissioned by SITCO to prepare a concept document for presentation to the Deputy Premier using the Swan Brewery site. A report was subsequently prepared which contained a range of objectives as well as many ideas on participatory exhibits that were of special significance to WA. Although the controversial nature of the Brewery site was never pursued the report entitled "A Science and Technology Centre for Western Australia" which was produced in 1986 had a significant influence on the final outcome. One of those to take an interest in the concept was Perth businessman Kevin Parry, who was developing a retail centre at City West. on the outskirts of the Perth CBD. It was close to the railway line and the major north-south freeway, and had abundant free parking. It was to include an Omni-Max Theatre, as well as a variety of food outlets.

  I had known Kevin since we were students together at Perth Modern School. His yachting syndicate had beaten Alan Bond's syndicate for the right to defend the America's Cup in Fremantle. Dr. John Barker, who was the Executive Officer of SITCO, seized on the opportunity this development presented,   and suggested that an upper floor be added to the building design. Arthur Young Services were commissioned by the Parry Corporation to make a feasibility study for a Science Centre at City West, and Drs. Mary and David Dale were sub-contracted to provide specialist information. Following the completion of the Arthur Young report, the Parry Corporation and the State Government made a commitment to provide financial support for a centre at this site. Although the building space was not ideal, due to the limitations on ceiling height and access   for large objects, it did have the advantage of being in a good location close to Perth and with easy access   for patrons.

Thus SITCO was able to go back to the State Government, with financial support from industry, a preferred site   and   with the strong backing of Minister Bryce, who, as Deputy Premier, was an influential figure in the Labor Party. So it came to pass that a Board of Management, under the Chairmanship of a prominent West Australian in John Stokes, and with strong industry representation, was appointed by the Government under the umbrella of the Industry Development and Technology portfolio. This latter aspect was crucial in preventing later take-over bids by other Ministers to make it akin to the State Museum. In late 1987, Kevin Parry lost control of his company and his commitment to financially support the Centre collapsed. This led to financial constraints and a degree of uncertainty at the time when Scitech was being established.

Two important decisions were taken by the Board at an early stage. One was to establish   well-equipped mechanical   and electronic workshops within Scitech itself, and to manufacture and maintain the interactive exhibits in-house. The recruitment of some able design and technical staff enabled this goal to be realised. The availability of this workshop capability later led to the design and manufacture of a number of exhibits around a scientific theme, which, after being on display at Scitech, could then be sent to other science centres in Australia and Asia, with the expertise of the Scitech staff used to modify and refurbish the exhibitions as required. The first of these exhibitions was entitled "Sportsworks" which opened for display in 1991, just three years after Scitech was formed. Funding for some of these exhibitions was provided by industry.

The other major decision was to locate the proposed CSIRO Science Centre at Scitech rather than at the CSIRO laboratories in the   suburb of Floreat Park. Again it was fortuitous that I was Chairman of the State Advisory Committee of CSIRO at the time, as was another member of SITCO in Jim Ross. We were successful in persuading the CSIRO hierarchy to locate their proposed Science Laboratory at City West, on the grounds that their Laboratory would have far more impact on young people in Western Australia in terms of their   exposure to large numbers of school children and adults at the Scitech Discovery Centre, together with the provision of infrastructure required to operate such a science laboratory. The CSIRO Science laboratory quickly became a unique feature of Scitech, where real science experiments could be carried out by visiting school children. The salary of the teacher in the CSIRO science laboratory has been provided by CSIRO, together with a budget for consumables   and the like.

The Scitech Discovery Centre was officially opened on 13th August, 1988. It proved to be an immediate success   with schoolchildren and members of the public. The range of interactive exhibits catered for children of all ages from pre-schoolers   to Year 12 secondary school children.   Entrance fees were charged, but school groups were given a discounted entry fee, as were family groups. A number of retired science teachers and scientists   were recruited on a voluntary basis, and volunteers have remained an indispensable ingredient in the success of Scitech ever since. Although it took some time to convince the State Department of Education of the value of seconding a science teacher to Scitech to augment the quality of the educational experience of school students to the Centre, this was finally achieved.   Scitech set up a Professional Development program to enable practicing teachers, mainly at the Primary level, to extend their professional competence, and to enhance the quality of the educational experience when they brought their students to Scitech. This Professional Development program was overseen by an Education Sub-Committee of the Scitech Board. The Board also set up other Sub-Committees in areas such as finance, marketing and exhibits.

Unfortunately, the retirement of Malcolm Bryce   in 1988, and the subsequent appointment of his successor, resulted in a lack of support, and even of opposition from the new Minister. A crisis was reached when there was insufficient money to pay staff salaries,   as an embargo was placed on any Government financial support by the Minister.   I remember visiting Kerry Stokes at his home one Saturday morning to plead for enough money to keep Scitech open. Kerry, who was a strong supporter and sponsor of Scitech readily acceded to our request, and also led a delegation of influential business men to tell the new Minister that a significant amount of private money had been donated to Scitech with certain assurances   from the Government, and that he could expect his tenure as Minister to be short-lived unless he changed his views. Not long thereafter, this same Minister resigned in disgrace, and now works in another country.

One of the outcomes of this unfortunate situation was the Board's decision to appoint   Sir Laurence Brodie-Hall as Chairman. A prominent West Australian, and former CEO of Western Mining Corporation, Brodie had the stature to successfully negotiate with the Government. It is difficult to estimate the importance of the role that Sir Laurence played in the establishment   of Scitech, but without him, Scitech may not have survived. There is no doubt that an indispensable   part of the success of Scitech has been a succession   of outstanding Chairpersons of the Board. Sir Laurence was succeeded by Michael Chaney, CEO of Wesfarmers and now Chairman of the National Australia Bank . Roger Vines, the CEO of Alcoa Australia was the next Chairman, followed by Dr.Audrey Jackson, CEO of the Independent Schools Association and a former science teacher and school Principal. These Chairpersons   have been backed up by outstanding Board members. I was Deputy Chairman of the Board for the first nine years of Scitech's history, when a statuatory legislation led to my automatic retirement. However, I have been Patron of Scitech since my departure from the Board, a position which I regard as a great honour.

Of equal importance to having a good Board, is to have a good management team in charge   of Scitech. In this we have been most fortunate. Our first CEO was Dr. Seddon Bennington, who later left to fill a similar position in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Seddon's replacement was Dr. Anne Ghisalberti who later went to Questacon in Canberra as the Director. The present CEO is Alan Brien, who has a more business-oriented perspective than the first two CEOs, and has proved to be an outstanding appointment. The competence   of the present management team will undoubtedly ensure the continued success   of Scitech. One of Alan's initiatives has been to convince RioTinto to become a major sponsor, to enable a selection of the interactive exhibits to be transported to country towns as part of the   "Scitech Roadshow". This has made Scitech a truly State resource and not just a metropolitan entity. The State Government has recently provided significant funding to re-develop the Centre and to convert the old Omni-Max Theatre into a magnificent Planetarium. Although the Board examined many other possible sites over many years in and around Perth, it has now been decided to remain at the original site at City West.   Scitech has had the good fortune of having an efficient Director of Business and Finance in Gary Foxton, who has provided the Board with excellent financial information and advice over many years.

Many of the initial interactive displays   were duplicated from other science centres, although modified to suit local conditions   by our in-house workshop staff. One of the unusual features in the initial selection was that many of the exhibits were biological in nature rather than based on classic physics and chemistry topics. This was at least in part due to the professional background of the inaugural CEO. An attempt was made to get individual companies to donate the money to build an exhibit of their choosing, The mining companies were especially receptive to this initiative, and this has led to a diverse set of exhibits, many of local relevance.  

The Ingredients for Success

1. Serendipity

2. A strong Board of Management chaired by a prominent West Australian, comprised of leaders in business, education and science as well as an executive representative from the State Government

3. Strong financial control

4. Strong Government support through the Science portfolio that identifies science awareness and promotion as critical for community engagement   in science.

5. A "State" rather than a metropolitan facility, recognising the differential costs involved

6. Continued financial support from industry by establishing strong partnerships which ensures relevance and connectivities to the region.

7. The importance of a competent and innovative workshop team.

8. Enthusiastic volunteers. and science communicators

9. An innovative and integrated management   team\ with a sense for the dramatic..

10. The on-going CSIRO connection..

11. Site selection - a high profile location.


The Western Australian Science Discovery Centre is a vibrant and popular Centre which caters to people of all ages. In the calendar year 2005, 202,680 persons visited Scitech. The provision of large theme-oriented exhibitions has been a feature of the Centre's activities, and this continual production of large-scale exhibitions   has been a major source of finance, and the vehicle for new ideas. .Scitech also provides a training ground for young science communicators, and is a resource for science communications   in general by the Office of Science and Innovation of the State Government. The provision of the "Scitech Roadshow" to country towns has enabled Scitech to be seen as a truly State-wide resource.   I see no reason why Scitech should not continue to go from strength to strength, as it now an indispensable   component of the Western Australian community. It is interesting to assess the role played by Scitech in the development of science and technology in Western Australia. In some respects it acted as a catalyst for much of what has been achieved in W.A., and is a visible symbol to the community of the importance of science in this State.


I would like to thank Malcolm Bryce, John Barker, Mary and David Dale ,Phil Jennings, Alan Brien and Gary Foxton for helpful comments on this document, together with all those who contributed to making Scitech the outstanding facility it is today.

                                       The Gravity Discovery Centre

                                         Gingin, Western Australia

                                    David Blair 1 and John de Laeter 2 .

        1. School of Physics, University of Western Australia, Crawley, W.A. 6009.

•  Department of Applied Physics, Curtin University of Technology, GPO Box U1987, Perth, Western Australia, 6845

1. Introduction

Between 1980 until 2000 physicists   at the University of Western Australia developed and operated   a resonant mass gravity wave antenna made from the world's largest piece of niobium in order to detect gravity waves.   Although no gravity waves were detected with this experiment, it provided the basis for a new methodology, namely the laser interferometer technique for gravity wave detection. This new technique required a large isolated facility to house a long baseline interferometer. An isolated piece of pristine bushland near Gingin, some 80 km north of Perth was selected   to build the Australian International Gravitational Observatory (AIGO).

In 1997, whilst preliminary negotiations were taking place on the possibility of establishing the AIGO at Gingin, it was suggested by the then Deputy Premier and Minister for Science, Hendy Cowan, that a Visitor Centre be established to allow school children, and the public, to learn something of the research that would be carried out at this observatory - one of only four in the world, and the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. In addition to exposing school children and the public to gravitational physics and the "big" questions of the Universe, the opportunity of including astronomy and aspects of biodiversity arose from the Gingin site with its dark night sky and pristine bush. Art and science were to be combined in interpreting concepts of creation, and the aboriginal heritage of the region was to be incorporated in the educational experience. Although the remoteness of the site provided some challenges, it also presented some opportunities, not least of which is that school groups, families and tourists can visit a beautiful area of the WA coastal plain, which has lain virtually undisturbed for millenia.

Thus, the concept of the Gravity Discovery Centre grew out of the imperative that a research centre into gravitational wave detection should contribute much more to its local community than its research output alone, especially when its research was fundamental,   and not of immediate relevance to the average person. It was immediately clear that science education and the promotion of science, were those areas in which the Centre could make a significant contribution to society as a whole. The establishment of a science education centre called The Gravity Discovery Centre was therefore proposed.

Planning :  

To develop detailed concepts for the Gravity Discovery Centre (GDC), a Steering Committee was formed which brought together a broad range of interest groups including representatives from government departments responsible for education, tourism, and commerce, as well as local government representation. Other representatives included people from the arts community, universities, business, science education, an interactive science centre and political parties. The Steering Committee developed strategies for funding, a business plan, and a set of concepts for the Centre. A fundraising feasibility study strongly endorsed the possibility that the Centre could be funded from a diversity of government and non-government sources. The business plan endorsed the concept of a mostly self-funded Centre designed to have a small staff with low maintenance and running costs. The last key planning component by the GDC Steering Committee was the creation of the Gravity Discovery Centre Foundation (GDCF), as a tax-free, charitable foundation devoted to education and the promotion of science, supervised by a broad-based Board of Management.

Attributes of the AIGO Site :

The next step was to identify the specific areas in which the Centre could best contribute. To do this the Steering Committee identified the special attributes of the Centre and its site. These are summarized below:-

a)   The research centre was being established in an isolated location in the Shire of Gingin, about one hour's drive from the major population centre of Perth.

b) The research on the detection of gravitational waves is linked to fascinating but difficult concepts such as the curvature of space, the death of stars, the nature of black holes, the dimensionality of space and various topics in astrophysics.

c)   The research is also linked to a range of innovative frontier technologies such as high power lasers, quantum optics, super precise measurements and the use of supermagnets.

d)   The research project is carried out in close collaboration with The European Gravitational Observatory at Pisa, Italy and The Laser Interferometer Gravitational Observatory run by Caltech and MIT in the USA.

e)   The research centre is located in pristine bushland within a proposed nature reserve containing a significant number of rare plants. The entire region is within one of the Earth's biodiversity hot spots. It is estimated that within one square kilometre there are more plant species than in all of Great Britain.

f)   The site is far enough from the city that it offers clear dark night skies suited for excellent   astronomical observations, for both research and   public viewing.

g) The site contains places of Aboriginal cultural significance as well as plants traditionally used by Aboriginal people.

h)   Huge areas of West Australian bushland have been seriously degraded by the invasion of introduced environmental weeds. To maintain the pristine biodiversity of the site, it is essential to maintain active ongoing efforts for environmental protection and preservation.

i)    Prior to requesting permission to use the site for gravitational wave astronomy, the researchers requested permission for land use from the traditional Aboriginal elders, which led to an agreement that included strong environmental safeguards, and an agreement to include Aboriginal people in the development and operation of the Centre.

2. Guiding Principles for a new Science Education Centre

A set of guiding principles for the GDC were developed prior to initiating a fundraising campaign. They were developed through consultation with the Steering Committee, university academics, science teachers, tourism operators, and professional fundraisers. They are summarized below :-

a) Architecture : To utilize impressive architecture, large physical scale and powerful art to convey significance and a sense of awe and beauty.

b) Science and Art : To ensure that displays have striking qualities that make them accessible as art objects as well as having scientific significance.

c) The Big Questions : To maintain a focus on the big questions of life and the universe: what is space and time; how did it begin; what is the future for life, our planet and the universe; the origins of life; and are we alone in the universe?

d ) Focused Displays : To develop a relatively small set of large scale and semi-interactive displays clearly related to education modules linked to the school curriculum.

e) Self-promoting Icon : To develop at least one stunning icon exhibit that would ensure that the Centre became widely known and would be self publicizing. Due to the research links with Pisa and its links to Galileo and gravity, the icon was chosen to be "The Leaning Tower of Gingin" - a 40 metre construction - which would allow students to repeat Galileo's famous experiments. (See Figure 1).

f ) Understanding Research : To develop programs and displays that allow student and public participation in the process of research, including recognition of the nature and difficulties of research, its slow progress and occasional breakthroughs.

g) Reality first, technology where useful : To avoid "high tech" exhibits such as video simulations, but to use technology where it is useful for data gathering and communication. Specifically it was proposed to use digital cameras for data collection, and Powerpoint for students to create draft presentations to e-mail back to school for follow up activity.

h) Stewardship : To develop programs that relate to the biodiversity and preservation of the site, with implications to the human stewardship of the planet.

i) Astronomy and Culture : To develop displays and programs that relate to astronomy, and which include Aboriginal astronomy.

j) Modern Physics : To develop sculptural physics exhibits that relate to gravity, curved space, waves and acoustics, lasers and supermagnets.

k) Innovation : To showcase local innovations to encourage young people by example to pursue innovation and wealth creation through science and technology, and to show that an isolated community can compete in a competitive world.

  l) Multicultural Cosmology :   To present multicultural cosmology in a manner in

   which cultural cosmological beliefs (eg Dreamtime creation myths and the Seven

   Days of Creation), are presented alongside scientific cosmology.

m)   Wilderness Experience: To provide a wilderness experience, utilizing outdoor

  resources as much as possible

        n) Education Modules: To create educational modules which begin before the

            visit to the Centre, and which provide follow-up work after the visit including

          specific support material for teachers

   o) Cross Promotion : To cross-promote visits to other science centres and to avoid

       material which duplicates resources at schools or other science centres.



In summary, the concept for adding value to research was to create a Science Education Centre closely linked to research, and one which combined inspirational architecture, with art, science and the environment in harmony with people and technology. The focus was on the big questions of life and the universe, including multicultural and scientific cosmology. Our goal was to provide students and adults with a thoughtful and awe-inspiring experience that would take them beyond the mundane and the video experiences of modern life.

3.     Public Support and the Process of Development

Fundraising : The concepts described above were turned into a fundraising brochure and a video, under the guidance of a Fund Raising Committee, originally chaired by Robert Jewkes of Clough Engineering. Two years of considerable effort gave us the funds to turn the concepts into reality. Approximately $5 million was contributed in cash and in-kind. The success of the fundraising venture demonstrated the public support for the concept, and particularly the widely-held recognition that science and technology education was in need of support. Strong support was provided especially by companies based in Western Australia. It was difficult to secure contributions from companies who did not have their Head Office in Western Australia. This demonstrates how internationalization acts to weaken the local community, further emphasizing the need to create resources which can nurture innovation and create wealth at a local level.


Science-Art Concept Testing : To test the concept of using art as a means of interpreting and illustrating scientific concepts, the GDCF with the help of Perth sculptor Mark Grey-Smith, organized an art exhibition entitled Gravitate .   A group of artists were recruited who participated in workshops with physicists in which the modern concepts of gravity, space and time, and gravitational waves were explored.   They then developed works which included explorations of curved space, non-Euclidean geometry, gravity, and Einstein's Special and General theories of Relativity. Several works presented interpretations of gravitational lensing. One exhibit was a vivid presentation of the relativistic distortion of objects when they travel close to the speed of light. Another work was on the nature of space. Another was on the concept of action at a distance. The exhibition was very popular, and drew large attendances despite the difficult concepts which were presented. The works from the Gravitate exhibition provided the foundation concepts for many exhibits at the GDC, and led to successful funding applications for large scale permanent exhibits.


Public Astronomy : The second project of the GDC was the construction of a public astronomy centre entitled The Centenary of Federation Southern Cross Cosmos Centre (SCCC). This centre allowed the GDCF to confirm the financial viability of a remote science centre and provided the base and the nucleus for developing, testing and evaluating education programs of the type planned for the GDC. The special feature of the Cosmos Centre is a 20m long motorized roll-off-roll-on roof which opens a large viewing area to the sky (See Figure 2). In this area, seven tracking and/or computer-controlled telescopes are located, allowing groups of more than 50 to share in a viewing evening. A 25 inch telescope allows exceptional viewing of low brightness objects such as the Orion Nebula. An auditorium allows objects to be simultaneously projected onto a large screen, and specialized software such as "Starry Night and "Deep Space Explorer allow orientation sessions to take place before viewing. Projected images of the Moon allow detailed guided tours of the Moon to take place in real time.

Trial Education Programs : The concept of the GDC was developed in close liaison with science teachers.   Several workshops were presented at science teachers' conferences in which teacher feedback was used to develop various aspects of the Centre.   Prototype exhibits were discussed together with the building layout.   In parallel with these activities, the Cosmos Centre was used to develop trial one-day education programs that included astronomy, solar astronomy, biodiversity studies and physics experiences based on prototype display material. Once these were trialled it became possible to plan education modules in readiness for the opening of the Visitor Centre. This in turn, made it possible to present the full concept to science teachers and to get feedback which allowed the fine tuning of many of the practical issues associated with the Centre. Following teacher suggestions, we arranged for a bunkhouse to be set up on a nearby farm. This allowed school groups to stay overnight. The 1 km walk to the bunkhouse was turned into the Titan Resources Solar System Walk (scale model of the Solar System) using ceramic planets made by a craftsman potter. This walk allows students to experience the Solar System to a scale of 1 to 8 billion, while the planets are displayed on a scale of 1 to 40 million. This walk also serves as a location for biodiversity studies and insect collection. Teachers' suggestions also allowed the architecture of the GDC to be fine-tuned to teachers needs by providing several separate "confinement areas" which facilitate control of class groups, allowing several classes to use the Centre at the same time.

•  Education Modules and Exhibits

The education modules for the GDC have been designed by members of the GDC Education Committee consisting mainly of Primary, Secondary and Tertiary teachers and science educators.   They have been designed in two sets, one set for late primary (Years 4-7), the other for early secondary (Years 8-10).   Each module includes background information for teachers.   Pre-visit activities are then presented, followed by on-site activities, and follow-up activities.   All of the education modules are designed to allow a modern outcomes-based assessment of student performance. Each module worksheet provides a framework for assessment within this paradigm.   The education modules can be summarised under three categories :-

      a) Space Time and Cosmology: Nine modules covering space and time and

       Einstein's theories, astronomy, cosmology and multicultural cosmology.

  b)   Forces, Waves and Innovation:   Seven modules covering physics, the forces of nature, technology and innovation.

c) Biodiversity:   Twelve modules covering aspects of biodiversity, plant specialisation, sampling and discovery of new invertebrate species.

Space and Force Modules

Underlying many of these modules are concepts of Einstein's General Theory of Relativity. Traditionally this material is considered too difficult for school. However, although the mathematical details are difficult, the concepts are simple, and easy to demonstrate. They are as central to the understanding of space and the universe as the concept of evolution is to the study of species and life. Each set of exhibits is designed to be used at various levels. For example, even Einstein (the most difficult module), is supported by a delightful children's book designed for ages 8-10. Thus every exhibit may be used for both primary and secondary education, as well as being a fascinating sculptural object linked to the principles of physics.

The curved space and geometry module allows teachers to enrich mathematics education while introducing the idea first discussed by Gauss almost 200 years ago that the geometry of space should be studied experimentally and not taken on faith from the works of Aristotle and Euclid. On a spherical whiteboard, using a special line drawing car, students are able to prove that the sum of the angles of a triangle is not equal to 180 degrees and that the area of a circle is not exactly r 2 . They learn that the geometry we do on flat paper is a special case of a much more general type of geometry. Using laser beams they can create triangles in 3 dimensional space and learn that space is sufficiently flat that the Euclidean results are a useful approximation.

These ideas are taken further in Einstein and Gravity . In Einstein, fundamental but simple ideas which underlie Einstein's discoveries are introduced. In particular, a simple experiment using water jets in a freely falling transparent ball is used to demonstrate the idea that "physics is simple in free-fall". Gravity is the force you have to exert to prevent the natural motion of objects, which is free- fall. To understand this, it is necessary to understand that objects fall because their path in space time is extended if they do not fall. This happens because time depends on gravity. All these ideas have been successfully tested with young people who are remarkably more receptive than adults to the new ideas.

In Vacuum and Space students will test free-fall in vacuum, repeating the famous feather and hammer free-fall demonstration performed by Apollo astronauts on the Moon. They will also observe that sound does not propagate through space but that light and magnetism do. The finite velocity of all waves is explored in Waves .   The implications of finite wave velocity for study of the universe is explored in Telescopes are Time Machines. A 90 metre long cable wave exhibit and a one kilometre long sound pipe allow students to create waves and measure their velocity and to experience the concept of seeing or listening into the past. This links to the scale of the universe and our ability to look back to the time when the universe was very young. Students will recognize that our observations of the universe are in the past.

Waves also link to the search for gravitational waves and the technology which is used. This includes long pendulums in gravitational wave research which are used for vibration isolation.   The Pendulums module allows students to explore a variety of very large pendulums suspended from a 15 metre special purpose pendulum tower. (See Figure 3). A Foucault pendulum measures the rotation of the earth, while others display remarkable behaviour. The zero length pendulum displays spherical orbits, while the coupled pendulum shows dramatic beat phenomena.

Biodiversity Modules : Many of the biodiversity modules are designed to relate to the spectacular biodiversity of the site. They are intended to instill an appreciation of the spectacular local environment of which most Western Australians are largely unaware. They offer the real possibility for students to discover a new species, as well as to examine in detail many extraordinary plants.  

To provide long term scientific value, the GDC plans to create a reference collection of invertebrate species from the site.   This will be combined with a database of digital images.   Collaboration with government, museum and conservation staff will facilitate identification.   Because of the threat of invading weed species, a database will also be maintained of weed species which will help the GDC to manage the site with minimal environmental damage. A beautifully illustrated book has been written, which gives simple but accurate information of the flora of the area. These books can be purchased at the GDC bookshop.

The Limits of Knowledge : A very important aspect of the GDC Education Modules will be the presentation of the limits to human knowledge. It is disempowering, and indeed misleading, to present science as having all the answers. Every module should also teach students what we do not know, and indicate the frontier where our knowledge stops.   For example, our Sun has sunspots which vary over an 11-year cycle. We do not know the cause of either the sunspots or of the 11-year cycle. The Earth's magnetic field is generally said to be due to dynamo currents in its core. However the precise mechanism for this is unknown and the reason for the field-reversing direction every million or so years is also unknown.

One of the difficulties of operating a Science Education Centre in an area remote from the city, is the difficulty of obtaining the services of experienced Explainers and Guides. The GDC has been fortunate in obtaining the services of a dedicated group of Explainers who live in the district.

5. Present Status of the GDC

     The first building that was opened at the GDC in 2003 was the Southern Cross Cosmos Centre, in which an evening stargazing program called "Astronights" has been conducted in the summer months, utilising a large number of optical telescopes and video presentations. Tours of the Cosmos Centre are also available during the day.

     The Visitor Centre , which is the main building of the GDC, was opened in 2004. This building includes a lecture theatre, the Wesfarmer's Innovation Gallery, a cafeteria and Bookshop, and the main exhibit area. This building won an Australian Architect's award. In 2005, 10,000 school children and adults visited the GDC. Admission is charged, but concessions are made for school visits and larger groups.

    The Cosmology Gallery, is a tall building with a "bucky-ball" roof and a Roger Penrose-designed floor, in which murals and paintings will depict various cultural and religious interpretations of the Creation story. This building is nearing completion.

    The most recent addition addition to the complex of buildings comprising the GDC, is the Zadco Telescope Dome , which will shortly house a fully robotic, 1 metre optical telescope, which will be linked to similar robotic telescopes in France and Chile. The telescope will be used for research, science education projects and for public viewing.

    The final component of the GDC is the Leaning Tower of Gingin and the associated "Treetop Walk". The design of the Leaning Tower is complete and the noted Italian architect Aldo Guirgela, who designed Parliament House in Canberra, has turned the original engineering design into an aethetically pleasing structure We envisage the Leaning Tower being completed in the early part of 2007.

    Thus the total Gravity Discovery Centre concept will take approximately 10 years to complete, and it will undoubtedly undergo various additions and   modifications for some time in the future. It is interesting to note that those who were instrumental in the original concept of the GDC and its formative years, are still actively involved today. In 2005, the authors of this paper were jointly awarded the Eureka Prize by the Australian Museum in the category of "The Public Understanding of Science".

6. Conclusions

The scientific method has given us the means of tackling our ignorance. The key component of the scientific method is scepticism. It is therefore important that the GDC education programs should emphasise active critical observation and not blind acceptance. They should also emphasise scientific integrity.   Scientists "talk" to Nature by poseing questions. Through experiment and observation Nature provides the answers. False answers and interpretations will always be discovered eventually.   All education modules at the GDC are designed to accommodate these components.

The most remarkable feature of science is that it works! That we are able to continually pose new and sensible questions and understand the answers is astonishing! We do not know if the human mind provides a limit to our ability to understand the universe. However, we do know that knowledge obtained through science, and applied with wisdom, offers us the greatest possibility of understanding our place in the universe. Such knowledge is essential if the human race is to create a rich future for itself and its planet. Fundamental research into gravitational waves has provided an opportunity to create an education centre that is designed to be a contribution towards this goal.

More particularly, the Gravity Discovery Centre is designed to show bright young people that there is an exciting future for science and technology. It is designed to allow students to experience the joy of finding things out for themselves - the joy of knowledge and understanding. It is designed to encourage young people to be the scientists and technologists of tomorrow while contributing to society's broader, deeper understanding of science. Simultaneously through its art and science approach, the GDC will be an art gallery in its own right that will attract and appeal to non-scientifically minded people.   The artistic interpretation of science will give an added dimension to the Centre, which will enable it to counter the view that science is narrow and uninteresting.   The art gallery environment is also designed to be conducive to contemplative thinking and observation.


So many people, from so many walks of life, have contributed to the establishment of the Gravity Discovery Centre that it is impossible to name them all. However, special thanks are due to our Patrons, to Members of the Foundation, the Board of Management, Committees and to all those sponsors   who have contributed funding and in-kind support, without which the the GDC would not exist. The dedicated input of staff, often under difficult conditions, is gratefully acknowledged


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Gravity Discovery Centre Military Road, Gingin, Western AustraliaP.O. Box 313 Gingin W.A. 6503
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