Canberra Citizen of the Year
Michael Miles Gore (born 1934)
Mike Gore with models of the Muttabarrasaurus at the National Science and Technology Centre, 7 October 1988.
SOURCE: ACT Heritage Library, Canberra Times Collection, National Science and Technology Centre File. Photographer Richard B.
Mike Gore was born in Bolton, Lancashire, a small, smoggy and economically depressed cotton milling town. He was the only child of Ernest Gore, an electrical engineer employed in the local power station, and May nee Robinson (died 1984). Ernest was also a skilled handyman, a trait inherited and joyously practised by his son.
School work was far less interesting, and Mike twice failed the 11-plus examination. A pass would have taken him to a grammar school; instead he went to a secondary modern school and then to Worsley Technical School, one of the most fortunate circumstances of his life. He found himself in a school staffed by enthusiastic teachers, in a class of boys who all wanted to learn, and he thrived. His most influential teacher was Alf Whittaker, whose style Mike later adopted and promoted.
After two years at Worsley Mike went to Bolton Senior Tech where he became interested in languages, adding English and French for university entrance requirements and German because he liked it. He studied electrical engineering at Leeds but typically it was what he learned on the side that had the greater long-term effect.
The annual Engineers Ball was not just a one-night event. A building at the university was taken over and transformed by the engineering students into something different each year. Mike tramped round Leeds scrounging material for the construction and developing not only his existing handyman skills but also very useful talking skills. Shy as a boy, he became known for his persuasiveness and negotiating ability.
He learned public speaking, and by the end of his undergraduate course he was recognised as an explainer. While doing his PhD he was asked to prepare a course of ten 'visual' lectures for people without much English. The challenge intrigued him, and to improve his technique he then went to local technical schools and taught people who didn't want to know, learning to apply Alf Whittaker's methods to enthuse people.
In 1960, at the end of his university studies, Mike applied for positions all over the world. Two responses attracted him: a nine-month post-doctoral position at Brown University in Rhode Island and a lectureship at the Australian National University in the still new School of General Studies. He chose both, successfully negotiating a late start at ANU after completing his work at Brown.
Mike met Joyce Klaber at Brown University where she was studying drama. She followed him to Canberra, they married in Bruce Hall and lived there before moving into Lennox House. Lennox was an ageing Commonwealth hostel that housed mainly ANU students. Mike was soon on excellent terms with the university's maintenance and workshop staff who not only kept Lennox running and helped him set up equipment at the ANU but later became the nucleus of a network of technicians who built the first Questacon exhibits. Their nickname for him was 'Captain Bluff'.
In 1970 Mike had spent a study year at Phillips research centre in Eindhoven, Holland. He arranged a second sabbatical in 1975 but by then sea voyages had been replaced by air travel, so Mike planned a stopover in San Francisco. He noticed an advertisement for a science exploratorium, dragged Joyce and the three children into it and three hours later had to drag them out again. Back home in Canberra he talked about it to a colleague, Chris Bryant, who finally told him to stop talking and do something about it.
Questacon was an amalgam of Mike's father Ernest, Alf Whittaker, the San Francisco Exploratorium and the Leeds University Engineers Ball, which all came together in the preparation room of the Physics Department at ANU. Mike was asked to conduct a group of girls from a Goulburn high school on a tour of the department, and with time left at the end he took them to see the various pieces of equipment being repaired in the preparation room. His brief explanations followed by an invitation to see what they could do with the equipment quickly created an impromptu science awareness centre, and Mike found out many years later that he had unwittingly repeated the experience of Frank Oppenheimer, the founder of the Exploratorium.
Unlike Frank, who was dismissed from his university for activities inappropriate to the dignity of the institution, Mike went outside the university for funding (an innovations grant from the Australian Schools Commission), premises (the disused Ainslie Infants School, from the ACT Schools Authority) and labour (technicians from at least 20 workshops and laboratories all over Canberra, including ANU).
Meanwhile, Mike continued at ANU as a lecturer to physics students at all levels, resigning in 1987 to run Questacon. Paradoxically, while he established Questacon to inspire, not to teach, one of the world's best programs for teaching awareness of science has grown out of it. Mike resigned from Questacon in 1999 to be Adjunct Professor of the ANU's Centre for the Public Awareness of Science (CPAS), which he had founded in 1995.
Questacon opened in September 1980 to immediate popular success tempered by claims that there was no value in promoting science to children or to adults without the education to understand it. Mike, Chris Bryant and Sue Stocklmayer therefore set up the Travelling Science Circus, now sponsored by Shell, partly to test the validity of the criticisms and partly to take their project to a wider public. The Circus is still travelling the highways of Australia, and the explainers who accompany it are students at CPAS.
Mike's love of drama and theatre is evident in the various science shows he has presented, but his most outstanding performance has probably been his production of The Life, Times and Science of Galileo, a dramatized theatrical presentation with large-scale demonstrations. In 2010 he was a founding member of the Faraday Club, named for the great scientist and science communicator Michael Faraday.
In his early days in Canberra Mike found a kindred spirit in Lindsay Pryor, whose philosophy was “Don't ask permission, ask forgiveness”. In following that advice, Mike says, “I've achieved a lot and had a hell of a lot of fun doing it”.
Awards and Distinctions
- 1982 Churchill Fellowship (taken in 1983)
- 1983 Canberran of the Year
- 1986 Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for services to science education
- 1992 Australian Broadcasting Corporation's Eureka Prize for public promotion of science (jointly with Questacon)
- 2001 Australian Institute of Physics award for outstanding service to physics in Australia
- 2004 Association of Science-Technology Centers Honorary Life Membership
- 2005 Australian National University Award for Outreach
- 2006 Australian Academy of Science Triennial Medal
- 2015 Officer of the Order of Australia (AO) for distinguished service to science through a range of public outreach, communication and education initiatives on a national and international level, and as a mentor and role model for young scientists
1983 Gore, Michael Miles, Interactive science centres: a world wide study, the Author.
1990 Gore, MM. 'Interactive Science and Technology Centres', in: 1990 National Engineering Conference of the Institution of Engineers, Australia: Government, Engineering and the Nation. Barton, ACT: Institution of Engineers, Australia, pages 92-96.
2001 Stocklmayer, Susan M; Gore, Michael M; Bryant, Chris R (editors), Science Communication in Theory and Practice. Dordrecht, Netherlands: Springer Science & Business Media
1979 'EDUCATION '79... THE QUESTACON An extra dimension to science teaching in the ACT An occasional series.', by Michael M Gore, The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 11 June, p. 2, viewed 13 January, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article110951337
1983 'Questacon's hands-on science excites.', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 13 March, p. 7, viewed 13 January, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article116373535
1988 'National Science and Technology Centre Hands-on science dream realised.', The Canberra Times (ACT : 1926 - 1995), 24 November, p. 17, viewed 13 January, 2016, http://nla.gov.au/nla.news-article110616168
2014 Interview with Professor Michael Gore AM. Interviews conducted June 2014, at Emeritus Faculty. Producer, Interviewer and Editor - Peter Stewart; Engineer - Nik Fominas, http://www.anu.edu.au/emeritus/ohp/interviews/michael_gore.html