Project Development

Here are a few guidelines for how to think of and do a science fair project.

Problem Statement

Pick your topic. Get an idea of what you want to study. Ideas might come from hobbies or problems you see that need solutions. Due to limited time and resources, you may want to study only one or two specific events. Write down concisely your statement of the problem and what solutions or insights are invited by what you know and don't know about it. Consider what the solution might be.

Research Your Topic

Go to the library or internet and learn everything you can on your topic. Observe related events. Gather existing information on your topic. Look for unexplained or unexpected results. Also, talk to professionals in the field, write or email companies for specific information, and obtain or construct needed equipment.

Organize and Plan Your Quest

Organize everything you have learned about your topic. At this point you should narrow your thinking by focusing on a particular idea. Your background research should help you. Think about what you hope to prove, how you intend to do it, what you need, what might go wrong, and where you can get help. Make an outline of all these keys issues to guide you and be ready to adapt.

Make a Timetable

Choose a topic that not only interests you, but can be done in the amount of time you have. Use a calendar to identify important dates. Leave time to fill out the forms and to review your research plan with your sponsor or teacher. Certain projects require more time because they need prior Scientific Review Committee (SRC) or Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval. The SRC and IRB reviews are to insure the safety of the participant and others. Allow plenty of time to experiment and collect data—even simple experiments do not always go as you might expect the first time, or even the second time. Also leave time to write a paper and put together an exhibit.

Plan Your Experimental Design

Give careful thought to experimental design. Once you have a feasible project idea, write a research plan. This plan should explain how you will do your experiments and exactly what they will involve.

Consult Your Adult Sponsor

You are required to discuss your research plan with an Adult Sponsor and obtain a signature of approval. In reviewing the Research Plan, your Sponsor should determine if additional forms and/or IRB/SRC prior approval is needed. You and your Adult Sponsor may use the forms checklist or contact USEF.

Gather Equipment & Supplies

Gather or purchase all the equipment, material, and supplies you are going to need to conduct your experiments.

Conduct Your Experiments

During experimentation, keep detailed notes of each and every experiment in your journal notebook, measurement and observation. Do not rely on your memory. Remember to change only one variable at a time when experimenting, and make sure to include control experiments in which none of the variables are changed. Make sure you include sufficient numbers in both control and experimental groups to be statistically valid.

Examine and Analyze Your Results

When you complete your experiments, examine and organize your findings. Did your experiments give you the expected results? Why or why not? Was your experiment performed with the exact same steps each time? Are there other explanations that you had not considered or observed? Were there errors in your observations? Remember that understanding errors and reporting that a suspected variable did not change the results can be valuable information. If possible, statistically analyze your data.

Draw Conclusions

Which variables are important? Did you collect enough data? Do you need to conduct more experimentation? Keep an open mind—never alter results to fit a theory. If your results do not support your hypothesis, you still have accomplished successful scientific research.