Free Fall at Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre

Free Fall at Questacon, the National Science and Technology Centre


Posted 2012-10-19 by Jordan Morrisfollow

Photo Courtesy of Claire Gunton --

Near the shore of Canberra's Lake Burley Griffin stands The National Science and Technology Centre (affectionately known as Questacon) - the modern, white complex with the spiralling annex that resembles the Tower of Pisa. The resemblance was pointed out to me by one of Questacon's Volunteer Explainers, a man who also informed me that Galileo was said to have investigated gravitational freefall four hundred years ago by dropping weights of different mass from the Tower of Pisa. I would have happily done that myself. What my kids wanted to do was drop me from a height of six metres - a fall from the third storey of the building.

By this point I had already stuck my head in a guillotine, been hit by caged lighting and attacked by a virtual shark. (And - to be fair - Questacon had made these aspects of science almost as enjoyable for me as they'd been for my children.) Still, my 'fight or flight response' had gotten more than enough of a workout for one day without facing its fear of heights. My arguments against being a 'hands on' part of the Free Fall exhibit were swiftly rebuked - I wasn't the wrong age (I'm older than five) and I wasn't the wrong height (I'm taller than 110 centimetres). Thus, I theorised that if my kids could do it (and they had... twice) then so could I.

And so I found myself dressed in Questacon overalls, with the mutant offspring of ballet slippers and a disposable hairnet on my feet. My hands clenched tightly around the metal bar from which I hung in midair. I didn't look down. And then I listened through the sound of my own heartbeat for the signal to drop.

The freefall lasted for less than one petrifying second before I merged with the slide that decelerated me to a standstill.

I bet Galileo never did that, I told the Explainer at the other end.

The Explainer explained that Galileo never even dropped weights from the Tower of Pisa. Apparently it was a 'thought experiment' – he proved the point without actually doing the experiment.

If only I'd thought of that.

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195682 - 2023-06-16 04:11:39


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