Rule Check

levi-schweigertRules and Requirements for Participation at SARSEF

We are glad that you starting on your project and want to make sure that you follow the rules.

Remember, you can do a project in several different ways.

  1. By yourself: Work on your own idea and project board
  2. With a small team: Teams of two or three students can decide on the same topic and work together to research and present. (But each of you must be involved in all parts.)
  3. With a group or your whole class: Groups of four or more can do a project, as can entire classes. It is important that each student compile their  own logbook and help put the board together.
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Approval Before Experiment

Before you start a project there are several important checkpoints. These are not only to protect you, but also to teach the proper scientific protocols. Middle school students will use the  Grades K-8 “Research Plan and SRC Approval Form.”

See the form at:  Gr K-8 SRC Approval Form 11-2

And if humans are involved you may need this form: Informed Consent K-8

Any survey or interaction with animals or humans other than pure observation (watching) must be approved. It is absolutely required that all projects involving non-human vertebrate animals, animal/human tissue, recombinant DNA, pathogens, human subjects, controlled substances, hazardous materials or hazardous devices obtain project approval by the Scientific Review Committee (SRC) prior to experimentation.

If you proceed without permission, it may result in Failure to Qualify at SARSEF.

All projects of this kind must be reviewed by your school’s SRC committee. The process starts with filling out the required form mentioned above to send in for approval early in the school year. Do it now, before you start!

For Grades K-8, schools should have formed their own SRC Committee. If so, you do not need to send the forms to SARSEF directly — but may make contact if you have questions or cannot make a final determination.

Some elementary and middle school students conducting advanced research may be asked to also file additional forms depending on their project which can be found under “Forms.” In addition, students may want to try out the interactive questionnaire at the following website, which will help you practice for when you are high school. It helps you find the exact forms you will need to fill out.

It is a simple to follow system of questions about your projects will now lead you to the exact forms that you will need to compete at SARSEF and most any other national/international competition. Go to:

What Your School Scientific Review Committee Will Be Looking For

Upon reviewing a project, the SRC arrives at one of three decisions:

  • Approval: If a project is approved, the SRC chairperson signs the appropriate forms and returns paperwork to students as soon as possible, so that they can begin their project.
  • Disapproval: The SRC chairperson will provide the student and sponsor with a list of reasons for disapproval, and suggestions for changes needed for approval. If suitable corrections are made, the revised project forms should be re-submitted for reviewed. If the project is approved, the student and sponsor will be told immediately so that the student can begin their project.
  • NOT allowed: Some projects are unethical or should not be done by elementary students. Examples would include projects designed to kill vertebrate animals, toxicity studies using vertebrate animals, improper treatment of animals, proposed use of potential pathogens at home, and lack of appropriate supervision. The SRC will notify the student and sponsor promptly and provide them with a complete list of reasons the project may not be done.

Specific items SRC members consider in reviewing a project include:

  • evidence of library/literary search (Internet, journals, books, etc.)
  • evidence of proper supervision use of accepted research techniques
  • completed forms, signatures and dates
  • evidence of search for alternatives to animal use
  • humane treatment of animals
  • compliance with rules and laws governing proper care and housing of animals
  • appropriate us of devices and activities
  • appropriate/safe handling and use of recombinant DNA, potentially pathogenic organisms, tissues and hazardous substances
  • adequate documentation of the substantial expansion of continuing projects.

Mold and bacteria projects:
Mold – bread mold projects (K-8) may be allowed at home ONLY if the study is stopped as soon as the mold is seen. (In other words, as soon as mold starts to grow, the bread is thrown away.)
Bacteria – At NO time is bacteria culturing allowed at home. Samples may be collected at home or in the environment, but they must then be taken to a laboratory (school or lab) to be grown. Please review ISEF rules for specifics regarding the type of bacteria that can be grown in a BSL 1 lab.

Many questions can be answered by an e-mail or phone call to Dr. Paula Johnson (D.V.M.) at 621-3483. She can advise methods that will lead to approval or counsel the student in a direction that will not run the risk of rejection by the SRC. Even after the phone call, if the project involves any of the SRC categories, approval must be obtained in writing, on the high school ISEF forms, before research is initiated. This applies to kindergarten through high school. This simple step can save potential conflict and embarrassment, and worse, disqualification at SARSEF.

Questions may be sent to

If the school SRC is in doubt, members may submit the form to the SARSEF Scientific Review Committe (SARSEF SRC, 7380 E. Snyder Rd., Tucson AZ 85750)

Informed Consent

Remember, all projects — regardless of grade level and relationship to the human subjects — must have SRC review, and obtain approval where necessary before experimentation starts.

Fill out and send in all of the material requested on the SRC & Informed Consent K-8 Form to your school’s SRC.

Projects that involve humans and are more than just observing natural behavior will need an informed consent form:

Informed Consent K-8

Failure to receive approval before experimentation will result in Failure to Qualify for SARSEF, the Arizona Science & Engineering Fair (AzSEF), Broadcom MASTERS and Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).

The process of obtaining informed consent provides information to the subject about the risks and benefits associated with participation in the research study, and allows the subject to make an educated decision about whether or not to participate. Informed consent is an ongoing process, not a single event that ends with a signature on a page. It must incorporate procedures that do not involve coercion or deception.

Documentation of informed consent is required:

  • When the SRC determines that a research study involves physical or psychological activities with more than minimal risk
  • When the SRC determines that the project could potentially result in emotional stress to a research subject.
  • When the SRC determines that the research subjects belong to a risk group and the study does not meet any of the criteria below for a waiver.

Documentation of informed consent is required for most research projects. However, the SRC may waive the requirement for documentation of written informed consent if the research involves only minimal risk and anonymous data collection and if it is one of the following:

  • Research involving the observation of legal public behavior
  • Research involving collection or study of existing publicly available data or records
  • Research involving normal educational practices
  • Research on individual or group behavior or characteristics of individuals where the researcher does not manipulate the subjects’ behavior and the study does not involve more than minimal risk
  • Surveys and questionnaires that are determined by the SRC to involve perception, cognition or game theory, and do NOT involve gathering personal information, invasion of privacy or potential for emotional distress. If there is any uncertainty regarding the appropriateness of waiving informed consent, it is strongly recommended that informed consent be obtained.
  • Studies involving physical activity where the SRC determines that no more than minimal risk exists, and where the probability and magnitude of harm or discomfort anticipated in the research are not greater (in and of themselves) than those ordinarily encountered in DAILY LIFE or during performance of routine physical activities.

If a research subject is under 18 years of age, it is recommended that, in all cases, informed consent be obtained. Both the parent/legal guardian and the school-age research subject must sign Informed Consent Form, for K-8 researchers, and for HS researchers ISEF Form 4 (Human Subjects and Informed Consent Form). However, an IRB may decide that informed consent is not required because of the allowable exceptions listed above. When the SRC waives informed consent of research subjects under the age of 18 for studies involving surveys or questionnaires, documentation justifying this waiver must accompany Informed Consent Form K-8 or HS ISEF Form 4.

There is no single prescribed SARSEF format for obtaining Informed Consent.

K-8 Researchers may use this form to get started:  Informed Consent K-8

It should then be copied for each participant’s appropriate signatures. These should be kept in your research journal. They should remain confidential, but may be brought to SARSEF competition for SRC approval before competition, but should then be taken home.

 When in doubt, contact Dr. Johnson at

Display and Safety Rules for SARSEF

Items Not Allowed At Project or In Booth:
  • Living organisms, including plants, mold or bacteria
  • Taxidermy specimens or parts
  • Preserved vertebrate or invertebrate animals
  • Human or animal food
  • Human/animal parts or body fluids (for example, blood or urine). Teeth that have been decontaminated may be exhibited if kept in sealed containers.
  • Plant materials (living, dead, or preserved) that are in their raw, unprocessed or non-manufactured state. (Exception: manufactured construction materials used in building the project or display)
  • Chemicals, including water
  • Poisons, drugs, controlled substances, hazardous substances or devices (for example, firearms, weapons, ammunition or reloading devices)
  • Dry ice or other sublimating solids
  • Sharp items (for example, syringes, needles, pipettes or knives)
  • Glass or glass objects unless deemed by the Display and Safety Committee to be an integral and necessary part of the project (Exception: glass that is an integral part of a commercial product such as a computer screen)
  • Open flame or highly flammable materials
  • Batteries with open-top cells
  • Awards, medals, business cards, flags, endorsements and/or acknowledgments (graphic or written) unless the item(s) are an integral part of the project. (D&S decision) 
  • Photographs or other visual presentations depicting vertebrate animals in surgical techniques, dissections, necropsies or other lab procedures

Any apparatus deemed unsafe by the Scientific Review Committee or the Display and Safety Committee (for example, large vacuum tubes or dangerous ray-generating devices, empty tanks that previously contained combustible liquids or gases, pressurized tanks, etc.)

 Items Allowed, but with the Restrictions Indicated
  • Soil or waste samples if permanently encased in a slab of acrylic
  • Postal addresses, World Wide Web and email addresses, telephone numbers, and fax numbers of the finalist only — in journal or on required forms only
  • Any apparatus with unshielded belts, pulleys, chains or moving parts with tension or pinch points — if for display only and not operated
  • Any apparatus producing temperatures that will cause physical burns if inadequately insulated.
  • Photographs and/or visual depictions, if:
  • –  they are not deemed offensive or inappropriate
  • – they are photographs or visual depictions of the finalist doing the project. (Not a portrait; you want the focus on the science, not the researcher!)
  • – they are photographs of human subjects for which signed consent forms are at the project or in the booth

Every Child. Thinking Critically. Solving Problems.