Science Fair Project Ideas

I have been teaching high school science for 27 years. I have taught science research, mentored students and judged science fairs. I helped my own children do science fair projects and my neighbors and friends know me as the “science fair king”. If you need idea, I’m your man!

There are several keys to a good science fair project, no matter what grade the student is in. The first is that you can’t expect a student to do original research. When you hear about that student who won the Siemens’ Competition, be assured they worked with a scientist at some lab, and that many of them actually pay to go “summer science experiment camps”. The second is that you need to stay away from the same old boring projects, namely the “what is the effect of vinegar on the growth of a bean plant?” Science is supposed to be fun, so pick something that is different and out of the ordinary. The third is that it is OK to help your child. That doesn’t mean you do the project for them, but there is absolutely nothing wrong with you coming up with an idea and helping them. OK. Enough about the philosophy: how about some really cool, different ideas?

Here are several projects that I did with my own children, all of which won various awards.

WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF RADIATION ON BACTERIA IN FOOD?

We all know the concerns about our meat supply and the potential pathogens. Chicken can harbor salmonella, and chop meat has coliform bacteria. Go to several supermarkets and get either chicken or chop meat samples. Go to your family doctor and ask if you can buy some petri dishes with agar in them. For each meat sample, take two small samples, one the control, the other experimental. Find a local radiology center that will X-ray the meat samples for you. Then inoculate the petri dishes with swabs from the control and experimental meat. Place in an incubator and look for differences in bacterial growth. It’s a great project where your child will learn about controlled experiments, sterilization techniques and bacteria in food.

WHAT IS THE EFFECT OF LIGHT POLLUTION ON STAR GAZING

Lights from man-made sources are making it increasingly difficult for astronomers to observe the night sky. Pick a constellation that is easy to see. Read about stars and the magnitude scale of brightness. Record the magnitude of each star in the constellation. Then travel to different areas that have different amounts of light pollution, and make observations as to which stars are visible in the particular location. At the conclusion, you can summarize at which magnitudes light pollution makes the stars impossible to see.

CAN DINOSAUR SPEEDS BE CALCULATED FROM FOOTPRINT DATA

Paleontologists can determine the speed at which a dinosaur moves from studying its footprints. A great experiment is to test this method. Research the formula that is used to get speed from the footprint data. Go to a beach, and have the student walk, trot, run and then sprint for a set distance and time them. Calculate the speed that the student was moving. Then for each track way, measure the stride length. Using these measurements, substitute into the equation, and see if the formula works!