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This page is designed to help students from about grade 6 and up plan a science fair project.

Where to Start

First, you need to decide on your starting point. Sometimes brainstorming can be helpful. In your science notebook (the one in which you will record everything you do for your science fair project) write down:

  • things that interest you, even if they don't seem very scientific right now
  • problems you'd like to try and solve
  • weird things you've encountered
  • things that make you wonder

Once you have your list, cross off all but the most interesting topics. Look at each of the remaining topics and do a little more brainstorming--what can you do with this? What related problems are there? What makes you wonder about these topics? Use your answers to narrow down the list further. You will want to choose a topic that both interests you and also has scope for further study.

If you are still stuck for ideas, try touring local university open houses, search university department websites for current research, and take a look at recent science fair projects. It is important to remember that originality is very important, so if you see something interesting, be sure to take a new and novel approach in your own project, or explore a different aspect of the topic. While an important part of scientific research is repeatability, this is not the part of science that science fairs are based upon. Science fair judges have already seen enough oobleck and potato batteries. If these interest you, you will need to be ready to take these topics to a much deeper level, such as the current trends in the development of carbon polymers or innovations in the field of alternative energy sources. The judges are looking for something new, innovative and with greater depth than simple kitchen chemistry.

Once you have narrowed down your focus to one or two areas, you will need to start your research.


Researching Your Topic

It is important to research your topic in depth. This means:

  • book research: check your local public library as well as your school library and the libraries of local universities
  • internet research: be careful to vet sites for their validity, and record the url and date you visit the sites you use
  • journals: your local univerisity is probably the best bet for these, although you can access some journal articles online
  • past projects (check the website of your local fair as well as theCanada-Wide Science Fair
  • related university departments
  • interviews with current researchers; this sound tricky, but many researchers will respond to enthusiastic inquiries from youth who have shown an interest in their topic

Once you have done some research, you may find it wise or even necessary to find a mentor to help you with your project, particularly if you require access to labs and/or specialized equipment in order to complete your work. Some local fairs help match participants with mentors, or you can try and approach people on your own. One way to find them is to look to related industries or professions, such as opthalmologists for optics projects. Many will be happy to help students who are keen about their field.
You can also approach research institutions and universities. Start by looking through the related department pages of their websites to narrow down your search. Some will even list current areas of interest for individuals, and you can use this to make your first contact. While many professors may be too busy to help you, they may have a graduate student they can recommend.


Experiment, Study or Innovation

You have researched the general topic of study and have determined as best you can what has been studied already. Now is the time to decide on whether your project will be an experiment, a study or an innovation.

Experiment

When you think of a science fair project, chances are you think of one that falls into this category.
An experiement is when you control different variables to determine how a change affects a system in order to determine the answer to a prediction (called hypothesis). For example, if you wanted to compare the popping properties of various types of popcorn, you would need to ensure that all other variables remain the same so that the only differences are truly cause by the corn itself. You would need to maintain the same temperature, moisture and atmospheric pressure to be certain that each sample was tested in identical circumstances.

Study

A study is a project that examines data from a variety of sources in order to determine patterns in a new and unique way. These projects tend to rely on a strong statistical analysis. One example might be comparing migration patterns of different bird species over time.

Innovation

An innovation project will either adapt and improve an existing technology, combine existing technologies, or create a new technology to solve an existing problem. An example of an innovation is the creation of a new method of combining renewable energy sources.


Next Steps

Now you will need to work on the project proper. For a review of experimental techniques and an excellent project creation guide, see the links at the right side of this page.

For all projects:

  • Do your research, and be ready to speak knowledgeably about your topic in depth, as well as any related topics
  • Keep your notebook as neat as reasonably possible, and be sure to record EVERYTHING you do related to the project in the notebook
  • Keep a running bibliographic record of your research, including websites with the dates you visited them
  • Consult professionals in the field whenever possible--many will be enthusiastic about supporting your interest in their field

Tips for an experiment:

  • be careful about your controls, and recognize and record if and when you are not able to properly control for a variable
  • take as many trials as you can to improve the accuracy of your data
  • take trials in different conditions to determine the effect under varying conditions
  • record and photograph your work

Tips for a study:

  • check your data sources for validity; in many cases the most recent versions will be the most accurate
  • if you are unsure of the integrity of your sources, consult a research librarian or a researcher in the field
  • compare data sets of similar data when possible to check for validity
  • label all the axes of your graphs, and ensure that the scales you use are reasonable for the data you are presenting
  • be certain to determine when and if causality can be determined from your data
  • consider various factors that can affect the data you are studying
  • look for trends in your data and be certain to determine and report the amount of statistical error present in your calculations

Tips for an innovation:

  • often an extensive internet search will reveal similar innovations so you can determine which areas are most worth pursuing
  • be certain to review the rules for your fair to ensure you can bring your innovation with you, and if not, be prepared to create a model or mock-up
  • give yourself enough time to build, test and rebuild a few times so you can present your best version of your idea
  • research your innovation thoroughly in all aspects so you can apply any insights as you work, and also eliminate ideas that others have already shown are less likely to work
  • consider factors that will allow your innovation to succeed including simplicity, cost, availability of materials, comparison to other available options, environmental impact, ease of use, etc.
  • consider the needs of a potential market and/or industrial, medical or other applications

Presentation

It is important that you consult with the rules of your fair before proceeding further, since the dimensions, materials etc. of your presentation are often strictly enforced. Once you have followed these rules and have your display board ready, follow these tips to ensure your presentation will best show off your hard work.

  • Make sure your title is clearly visible, usually at the top centre of your board
  • Use the largest font possible to print your work for your board so it will be easily read
  • Avoid visual distractions, such as multiple flourescent contrasting colours--the easier it is on the eyes, the more people will take the time to read it
  • On the left should be your background, hypothesis or goals, and possibly your research design
  • On the centre should be your data collection and methodology
  • On your right should be your results, conclusions and bibliography
  • Understand that these directions have been simplified and generalized and that you may have more and/or different headings for your project
  • Add any photos you have, and bring along videos of the work, your notebook, samples, etc. as pertain to your project
  • If permitted, add lighting to your area to make it attractive and easier to read
  • Bring along extra copies of your report for those who are interested (including the judges)
  • Stay with your project not only during judging, but also when the fair is open to the public. Many connections with professionals and researchers have been made during this time, and if you aren't there to present and answer questions, you may lose out on some excellent opportunities.

For a more detailed guide for science fair projects,
see Stepping Up: The Ultimate Science Fair Preparation Guide
from Youth Science Canada.




Stepping Up: The Ultimate Science Fair Preparation Guide


Canada Wide Science Fair


Google Science Fair


Youth Science Canada Regional Fair Locator


Youth Science Canada