Science Fair Projects For Dummies


by Maxine Levaren




About the Author

Maxine Levaren, is a Jill of all trades, who’s worked as a writer, teacher, software developer, personal success coach, and consultant (not necessarily in that order).

In a former life, she was a science fair mom and cheerleader for a project involving 30 mice (back when working with live animals was easier). That experience paved the way for her career as an author of science fair project books. Maxine has also published works on computers and travel and lifestyle issues. She lives in San Diego with Senji and Bandit, her two dogs.



To my mom, Jean Haren.


Author’s Acknowledgments

Bravo to all the exhibitors at the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair, who gave me so many great projects to choose from. Most especially, I want to give a big hand to the students who graciously allowed me to use their projects in this book.

Thanks also to my agent, Matt Wagner at Waterside Productions, who played matchmaker between Wiley Publishing, Inc. and me. Kudos to the editors at Wiley: Tracy Boggier who helped birth this project and Allyson Grove who nurtured it throughout its development. And a special vote of gratitude to Shirley Parrish, Director of the Management Committee of the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair, who served as technical editor for this book, keeping me on the scientific straight and narrow.

Appreciation to my supporters and fans, Kathie Wickstrand Gahen, my coach, and Patricia Dibsie, fellow writer, best friend, and “partner in crime.”

Loving thanks to my awesome sons, Michael Bruce Iritz and Stuart Allen Iritz, whose science fair projects got me started on this path.


Publisher’s Acknowledgments

We’re proud of this book; please send us your comments through our Dummies online registration form located at .

Some of the people who helped bring this book to market include the following:

Acquisitions, Editorial, and Media Development

Project Editor: Allyson Grove

Acquisitions Editor: Tracy Boggier

Copy Editors: Robert Annis, Chad R. Sievers

Technical Editor: Shirley Parrish

Senior Permissions Editor: Carmen Krikorian

Editorial Assistant: Carol Strickland

Cartoons: Rich Tennant,

Composition Services

Project Coordinator: Nancee Reeves

Layout and Graphics: Carrie Foster, Kristin McMullan, Erin Zeltner

Proofreaders: Laura Albert, Andy Hollandbeck, Aptara

Indexer: Aptara

Publishing and Editorial for Consumer Dummies

Diane Graves Steele, Vice President and Publisher, Consumer Dummies

Joyce Pepple, Acquisitions Director, Consumer Dummies

Kristin A. Cocks, Product Development Director, Consumer Dummies

Michael Spring, Vice President and Publisher, Travel

Brice Gosnell, Publishing Director, Travel

Suzanne Jannetta, Editorial Director, Travel

Publishing for Technology Dummies

Andy Cummings, Vice President and Publisher, Dummies Technology/General User

Composition Services

Gerry Fahey, Vice President of Production Services

Debbie Stailey, Director of Composition Services




About This Book

How to Use This Book

Conventions Used in This Book

Foolish Assumptions

How This Book Is Organized

Icons Used in This Book

Part I : A Magical Mystery Tour of Science Fair Projects

Chapter 1: Science Fair Projects 101: Discovering What They’re All About

Explaining What’s Involved in a Science Fair

Finding the Best Project for You

Investigating and Reporting Background Information

Doing Your Project

Putting Your Best Foot Forward: Presenting Your Work

Exhibiting at the Science Fair

Chapter 2: Getting the Skinny on Science Fair Projects (And How They Can Help You)

Identifying the Benefits of a Science Fair Project

Simplifying the Task: Breaking Your Project into Manageable Pieces

Getting the Most from Your Science Project

Chapter 3: Tackling and Categorizing Your Projects

Exploring Four Ways to Do a Science Project

Running Down the Official ISEF Project Categories

Part II : Choosing a Project and Getting Started

Chapter 4: What’s the Big Idea? Finding a Project Topic

Using What You’re Studying in Class (And Not Just Science Class!)

Getting Inspiration from Media Sources

Cultivating Ideas from Current Events and Issues

Doing Your Own Thing: Parlaying Personal Interests

Talking to Friends and Family

Building on a Previous Project

Applying the Acid Test: Can I Really Do This Project?

Chapter 5: Getting the 4-1-1: Information Please!

Following the Trail: Finding the Info You Need

Tracking and Crediting Sources

Writing It Down: Note-taking 101

Finding a Mentor

Chapter 6: Writing Your Background Research Paper

Following the ABCs: The Anatomy of a Research Paper

Outlining Your Ideas

Roughing It: Preparing Your First Draft

Polishing Up Your Paper: Creating a Final Copy

Part III : The Nitty-Gritty: Stepping Through the Project

Chapter 7: Keeping Your Project on Track

Deciding What to Do (And Putting It in Writing)

Establishing a Timetable for Yourself

Chapter 8: Getting to the Nuts and Bolts: The Scientific Method

Understanding a Method to the Scientific Madness

Putting It All Together: The Scientific Method Up Close

Chapter 9: Over Here, Igor: Doing Your Project

Going on a Mission: Gathering Your Materials

Taking Inventory: Listing Your Materials

Avoiding Prohibited Materials

Writing Your Procedures

Taking the Plunge: Doing Your Project

Keeping Accurate Records

Waking Up From a Nightmare: Help, My Project Is Doomed!

Chapter 10: That’s a Wrap: Winding Up Your Project!

Playing Detective and Examining Results

Drawing Conclusions

Part IV : Show and Tell

Chapter 11: Creating a Project Notebook

Polishing Your Research Paper

Getting Your Notebook Together

Making a Good Impression

Filling Out the Required Forms

Chapter 12: Displaying Your Project

Showing Off: Organizing the Parts of Your Display

Drawing a Blueprint: Laying Out Your Backboard

Spicing Up Your Display

Gathering Your Supplies

Working on the Assembly Line: Putting Your Display Together

Part V : The Finals: Knowing What to Expect at the Fair

Chapter 13: Entering the Construction Zone: Setting Up Your Project

Transporting Your Project and Preparing for Setup

Passing the Checkpoint: Following the Rules

Finding a Spot for Your Project

Chapter 14: Bringing On the Judges

Who the Judges Are

What Judges Look For

Knowing How to Impress the Judges

Chapter 15: Going for the Gold: Science Fair Awards

Winning Local and Regional Awards

Receiving Professional Awards

Getting ISEF Awards

Making It Pay: Scholarships, Trips, Money, and Other Goodies

Basking in the Glory

Part VI : Some Superb Science Project Picks

Chapter 16: Easy As Pie

Behavioral and Social Sciences




Physics Projects


Project Potpourri

Chapter 17: Kicking It Up a Notch



Environmental Science


Project Potpourri

Chapter 18: Taking the Challenge


Environmental Sciences



And Many More . . .

Part VII : The Part of Tens

Chapter 19: Ten Bad Project Ideas and Why You Should Avoid Them

Making Models

Going Against the Law

Speaking Unscientifically

Making the Judges Count Sheep

Expressing It with Music and Art

Making a Personal Choice

Deciding What’s Best

Testing, 1, 2, 3

Guesstimating the Numbers

Proving (Like Breaking Up) Is Hard to Do

Chapter 20: Ten Great Web Sites (Okay, 23 Actually)

Information, Please

Asking Questions (and Getting Answers)

Consulting an Online Writing Lab

Understanding the Science Project Game

Finding Science Fairs

Chapter 21: Ten Fun Things to Do at the Science Fair

Nabbing a “Get Out of Jail (er, School) Free” Card

Meeting New People

Perusing Other Projects

Taking Tours

Meeting Scientists

Playing Tourist

Getting a Free Lunch

Winning Awards

Showing Off

Having Fun

Chapter 22: Ten Science Project Survival Tips for Parents

Supporting Versus Nagging

Discovering New Things

Making Friends with Your Child

Living Your Second Childhood

Knowing When to Say No

Taking Time for Yourself

Staying Centered

Getting a Self-Checkup

Letting It Go

Asking for Help

Chapter 23: Ten MVPS (Most Valuable Project Supplies)

Going to the Library

Doing Interviews

Staying Organized

Staying Current with Computing Supplies

Avoiding Accidents

Measuring Up

Observing and Recording Results

Drawing and Painting

Putting Everything Away

Mopping Up


Y ikes! I have to do a science project! If you’ve never done one before, but have heard horror stories about them, you’re probably dreading the whole thing. Contrary to popular belief, doing a science project isn’t the 21st century equivalent of medieval torture. True, you may be required to do some hard work, and you may feel at times like you can never get through it, but you’ll survive, without any visible scars.

In fact, help is on the way. Welcome to Science Fair Projects For Dummies, where you find out everything you can possibly want to know about doing a science fair project (but were afraid to ask). In this book, I plan to demystify the whole process and make it easy and fun for you.

The good news is that you already have a lot of the abilities that you need. Do you like to write? The research paper gives you a place to show off your way with words. If you’re an artist in the making, you can have fun creating an attractive project display. If you’re persistent, never giving up until you find the answer, research is made for you. And if you’re crazy about details, lists, and statistics, I know you can keep excellent, precise records.

About This Book

This book is designed to be a no-nonsense, easy-to-follow guide to doing a successful science fair project and hopefully, having some fun in the process. Rather than discussing only projects that involve experiments, I include three other types of projects, including:

bullet Computer projects that either develop programs to solve a particular problem or analyze system performance.

bullet Engineering projects that design and build new devices or test existing devices to compare and analyze performance.

bullet Research projects that collect data, either by surveying a specific population or researching current sources, and that mathematically analyze and compare the information.

How to Use This Book

You don’t need to read this book from cover to cover to get the most out of it (although you can if you want to). As with all For Dummies books, you can skip around to the topics that interest you most. However, to get an idea of the entire science project experience, check out Chapter 1, which provides a complete overview.

Then, feel free to scan the Table of Contents to find the information that you need. In each chapter, you can find a step-by-step approach to the easiest, most effective way to get the job done. I also cover information that can help you anticipate, avoid, and, if necessary, deal with any bumps in the road. One quick note: Part VI is a little different from the other parts of the book; it describes actual projects in a variety of categories and in varying degrees of difficulty.

Conventions Used in This Book

The following conventions are used throughout the text to make things consistent and easy to understand.

bullet New terms appear in italic and are closely followed by an easy-to- understand definition.

bullet Boldface is used to highlight the action parts of the numbered steps. You can see a lot of boldfaced steps in Part VI where I list sample projects done at a California science fair.

Foolish Assumptions

In order to include all the information you need, I make a few assumptions about you, the reader. For example,

bullet You’re a student. Even though your parents (who are your biggest fans and support system) may read parts of this book, I’m mainly talking to you.

bullet This is your first or second project, so you want a simple approach that you can follow.

bullet Science, medicine, engineering, and computers aren’t necessarily your favorite subjects, but doing a science project may lead you to a career in advanced science or medicine.

bullet You’re ready, willing, and able to have a great science fair project experience.

bullet You want to have fun.

How This Book Is Organized

Science Fair Projects For Dummies is organized so that you can easily access all the information that you need. The chapters are in the same sequence as the activities that you may perform while doing your project, but you don’t have to read them in order — when you want some information, just turn to the part that you need.

Here’s the breakdown.

Part I: A Magical Mystery Tour of Science Fair Projects

Part I talks about how and why science fairs started, and briefly explains what’s involved in doing a science project, from soup (finding a topic) to nuts (exhibiting at a science fair). I also talk about why doing a science fair project is a good thing, and how you can make the process manageable, educational, and fun. Yeah, I said fun!

Part II: Choosing a Project and Getting Started

Part II deals with what may be the most important part of any science project — finding the best project idea for you. Because you live with your science project for several months, you need to be sure to choose a topic that you like. So, I explain in detail the types of projects you can do and the official International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) categories.

In addition, to make sure that your project idea is feasible, I show you how to give your idea the “acid test” for safety, affordability, and “do-ability” given your time and resources.

Finally, in this part, I show you where to locate information (research) and after you find it, how to take notes. When you’re done with the research, you organize your facts, outline your report, and write a clear, informative research paper. So, I give you a step-by-step guide on how to do just that.

Part III: The Nitty-Gritty: Stepping Through the Project

Part III deals with the heart of the matter — designing and executing your project. To be successful, you need to plan and organize your time, so I give you some tools to help you meet all your deadlines.

No matter what topic you choose, you need to understand and apply the scientific method. This involves asking a question that your project plans to answer and making an educated guess about what you think the answer is. For certain types of projects, you need to define variables and controls, which are the factors that remain constant or are changed. You may also need to establish experimental and control groups, which are subjects that are tested and observed during the project. If this all seems confusing, it isn’t after you check out Chapter 8, where I describe the elements of the scientific method and demonstrate how this applies to different types of projects.

Then, I show you how and where to get your materials, including how to plan, describe, and document any “home builts.” I also demonstrate how to design your procedures, and carry out your project. Perhaps most important, I explain how to effectively document everything that happens during the project. And finally, I escort you to the end of the road — assembling and analyzing your results and, based on those results, drawing your conclusion.

Part IV: Show and Tell

By the time you get here, you’ve put in many hours and done a lot of hard work. In Part IV, I show you how to present your project so that it gets a lot of favorable attention.

For starters, I talk about how to assemble your science fair notebook. And then, for all you artistic types, I talk about getting out the scissors and glue to create an attractive and informative display.

Part V: The Finals: Knowing What to Expect at the Fair

You did it! Your project is finished! In Part V, I talk about how to set up your project at the science fair, how to endure (and enjoy) the judging sessions, and how to graciously accept any awards that you may receive.

Part VI: Some Superb Science Project Picks

This part describes actual student projects that competed in the Greater San Diego Science and Engineering Fair in 2002.

Part VII: The Part of Tens

This section contains some valuable information that you need, but that doesn’t fit in anywhere else — project ideas to avoid, great Web sites to visit, fun things to do while you’re exhibiting at a science fair, tips for parents, and several science fair essentials.

Icons Used in This Book

Several icons appear in the margins of the book to highlight important information. Here’s a quick rundown about what they mean.


The bull’s eye marks information that can make your life easier while you’re working on your project. Pay close attention to them.


This icon indicates something you need to keep in mind in order to have a successful project.


Text with this icon alerts you to a common mistake that can trip you up.


Text marked with the ringing alarm clock gives you information that you can use now to make life easier later.


The True Story icon indicates projects or examples from actual science fairs.

Part I

A Magical Mystery Tour of Science Fair Projects

In this part . . .

If you’re here, you’ve decided to do a science fair project (or perhaps your teacher decided for you). Either way, the whole thing can be easier if you know a bit more. In Part I, I give you a bird’s eye view of the entire process and summarize everything you need to know to carry out a great science project. I also tell you how doing a project can help you in your educational career.

Doing a science project is perhaps the biggest job you’ve had so far in school, so dig in and read about how much fun it can be!