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Peter Fensham—head, heart and hands (on) in the service of science education and social equity and justice


When Peter Fensham was appointed to the new Chair of Science Education at Monash University in 1967 he was the first Professor of Science Education in Australia, and, we think, may well have been the first such professor anywhere in the world outside USA. Over the subsequent 40+ years he has made/still makes remarkable and diverse contributions to science education research and practice, both within Australia and internationally (in, it seems, every ‘corner’ of the globe). As founder of ASERA and of science education research in Australia, Peter is clearly the most obvious and central Key Figure to include in this special issue of CSSE about the Australasian Science Education Research Association.

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  1. In 1955 Bertrand Russell and Albert Einstein wrote a manifesto urging scientists of all political persuasions to address the threat posed to civilization by nuclear weapons. The Pugwash movement gets its name from the 1957 meeting in Pugwash, Nova Scotia, attended by 22 eminent scientists, to discuss items included in the manifesto. For more details see


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A number of people have provided me with extensive and very insightful comments about their links with Peter, their views of Peter’s impact on science education research and development (very often including their own research and development), and, in almost every case, comments about the remarkable personal qualities of the man himself. I thank them most sincerely, have endeavoured to represent all responses in the above, and apologize to those whom I have not quoted above—a reproduction of all that came to me would have filled this complete issue, and I deliberately did not go beyond science education academics to the other fields of Peter’s significant influence/achievements. And I apologize also to those who, as in some cases I already know, would certainly very much have wanted to make their own comments had they been aware I was writing this article. The academics who sent me comments are Hanna Arzi, Debbie Corrigan, Roger Cross, Justin Dillon, Reinders Duit, Gaalen Erickson, Rod Fawns, Marilyn Fleer, Jim Gaskell, John Hill, Edgar Jenkins, Alister Jones, Arthur Lucas, Cam McRobbie, Robin Millar, Ian Mitchell, Greg Ramsey, Léonie Rennie, Doug Roberts, Svein Sjøberg, Jinwoong Song, David Treagust, Russell Tytler, Leo West, and Dick White. In trying to ensure representation of the plethora of views of Peter’s remarkable career (so far), I have given almost none of my own personal perceptions. Here, then, I wish to formally record the extraordinary impact on my own career that has come from 35 years of working with (never ‘for’) Peter—a remarkable leader and colleague and friend.

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Correspondence to Richard Gunstone.

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A post-script: This year, 2008, marks the 50th anniversary of the founding of Monash University, the second university to be established in the city of Melbourne. It is now a very large institution—over 50,000 students on eight campuses—and has international research leaders in a wide range of fields. In August, as part of the celebrations of the anniversary, Monash made 50th Anniversary Research Awards to just 15 academics, to acknowledge “the exceptional contribution they have made to their field of research and the community over the 50 years of Monash University’s existence.” Peter was one of the 15, and, inevitably in such exclusive company, the only awardee in Education.

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Gunstone, R. Peter Fensham—head, heart and hands (on) in the service of science education and social equity and justice. Cult Stud of Sci Educ 4, 303–314 (2009).

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  • Science Education
  • Science Education Research
  • Early Career Researcher
  • Scholarly Book
  • Australasian Science Education Research Association