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Approval before experiment

Scientists and engineers need to receive approval from a scientific review committee (SRC) and/or an institutional review board (IRB) before conducting experiments. This ensures that their investigations are safe and ethical. Projects submitted to the SARSEF Regional Fair require the same approval so that students gain the experience of creating a safe, ethical investigation by adhering to the same standards utilized by the scientific community.

Any student that does not receive appropriate approval when required may not qualify for the SARSEF Regional Fair.

Scientific review committees

An SRC is a group of doctors, scientists, and other experts that review the detailed plan of investigative research. They evaluate the proposed research plan for quality, compliance, safety, and ethics.

Institutional review boards

Institutional review boards (IRBs) work similarly to SRCs but review research involving human subjects. A school’s SRC and IRB may consist of the same people. Approval must be obtained, where necessary, before a student starts any experimentation.

Schools are encouraged to form their own scientific review committee and/or institutional review board

A school’s SRC/IRB should consist of three adults (usually a science teacher, an administrator or designee, and a health professional such as a counselor or nurse). School SRCs do not need to send the forms to SARSEF before approving, but may if they have questions or cannot make a final determination.

Schools should follow the guidelines set by the Society for Science.


The SARSEF SRC/IRB (Scientific Review Committee/Institutional Review Board) is a group of professionals that approves projects according to the requirements, and the committee has access to University of Arizona faculty who serve as adjunct members. They also have access to other specialty faculty if there are questions of safety beyond the committee’s expertise. The official SARSEF SRC will evaluate all high school projects prior to the Fair.

What SRCs will be looking for

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 use of devices and activities
  • appropriate/safe handling and use of recombinant DNA, potentially pathogenic organisms, tissues and hazardous substances
  • adequate documentation of substantial expansion in projects that have been continued from previous years

Projects that need SRC approval

It is imperative that all projects (PreK-12) involving any of the following obtain project approval by an SRC prior to starting the project:

  • non-human vertebrate animals
  • animal/human tissue
  • recombinant DNA
  • pathogens
  • microbes/microorganisms
  • human subjects
  • controlled substances
  • hazardous substances
  • hazardous devices

For projects involving human subjects, projects must be approved by an IRB. This is a similar process.

Mold and bacteria projects


Bread mold projects 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.)


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.

Outcomes of review

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


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.


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 will be told immediately so that they can begin their project.

NOT allowed

Some projects are unethical or should not be done by PreK-12 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 promptly and provide them with a complete list of reasons the project may not be done.

Required forms

Grades PreK-8

For Grades PreK-8, schools should form their own SRC Committee and make decisions according to the guidelines. If this is completed, the forms do not need to be sent to SARSEF directly. SARSEF SRC can be contacted if there are any questions or a final determination cannot be reached.

High school

All high school projects require some forms. The Rules Wizard from the Society for Science will guide students through a series of questions about their project to help them determine exactly what forms they will need to submit for review.

Projects that require SRC approval before the project begins must submit the forms to either their School SRC or SARSEF SRC. Important: Submit early, and allow two weeks for processing, as the volume of applications increases as the year goes on.

If the student’s school does not have an SRC, their forms should be submitted to the SARSEF SRC at

Additional assistance

Students or school SRCs may reach out to the SARSEF SRC with additional questions about forms or approvals.

To contact the SARSEF SRC, please email