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A Guide to Science Fair Projects

by Sheldon Greaves


Other Resources

The Science Project Notebook

Looking for Ideas?

Don't Go it Alone!

How to Win a Science Fair

What is the Scientific Method?

Design Your Experiments

Science is a way of learning how the world works while taking care not to fool yourself. It is a way of thinking about the world around us. The science fair project is an opportunity for students to actually take what they learn about science and conduct their own investigation. Not many school projects offer the chance for a student to do so much on their own, nor do they have such potential for discovery. It can be an exciting and rewarding experience.

This section of "The Amateur Scientist" is designed to help you start, conduct, and present a high-quality science project. This page is a clearing house to point you towards some of the more general resources that can help you develop a science project. It also includes some new material developed especially for science fair participants.

What is a Science Project?

The object of a science project is to ask a question of nature, and then create a plan for gathering the data you need to answer that question. Sometimes you collect your data by observation, sometimes by devising an experiment, usually through a little bit of both. Before you try to answer your question, however, try to come up with an explanation on your own. Scientists call an unproven explanation a hypothesis. Your project should try to prove or disprove your hypothesis. This is partly how scientists work; they ask a question, propose a hypothesis, and then try to see if their hypothesis fits the facts. This is what's known as the Scientific Method.

If you collect good data, make careful observations, and use that information to prove or disprove a hypothesis, you've learned something. You're doing science.

Getting Started

If you're reading this out of desperation because you have a science project due tomorrow, you're out of luck. Not even Albert Einstein would be much help at this point. You can probably find something on this CD that you can cobble together, but don't expect an "A". We assume you have time to develop your project, and that your teachers have given you some guidelines to work with.

Before you go a step further, start a notebook (See "The Science Project Notebook"). Every good scientist uses a notebook to record their work. Use it to write down the ideas you consider for your project, and the reasons you picked one over the others. Record notes from your reading, talking to people, experiments, observations... everything that has anything to do with your experiment. If you are doing this project for a competetive science fair, few things will impress the judges as much as a well-kept notebook.

Next, take a look at some of the articles in the sidebar on the right to help you find ideas, develop your project, and do the necessary background work. Browse the indexes on this CD, and search under some key words of topics that interest you. Remember that once you decide on a question, you need to figure out the best way to answer that question. Read the article "What is the Scientific Method?" to get a better feel for how to set up your project. Finally, read through "How to Win a Science Fair" a couple of times to help you prepare your project for display.

Good luck!

A Word for Parents

The yearly science project probably terrifies at least as many parents as it does students. This is understandable; a good science project is an ambitious undertaking. It isn't like many school assignments where you can peek at the answers in the back of the book, or go read the Cliff's Notes. A science project at its best is a true exploration into something that the student doesn't know, where he or she seeks their own answers. If you're feeling at a loss, you're not alone. Take a look at the article "Don't Go it Alone!" for some resources that can help.

Some students get worried if they start working to answer their question, and find that their data does not support their hypothesis. They--and you--might worry that they are "drilling a dry well". But if they are doing their work carefully and honestly, sometimes an unexpected result can lead to a remarkable finding. It is even possible for a student's science project to result in a new, original discovery that has eluded the professionals. This dosen't happen very often, but it does happen. The upshot is not to worry if things take unexpected turns. That is part of the great adventure that is the world of science.