Types/New Categories

individuals

What Types of Projects Can Students Do?

The most important advice we can offer is to make sure your students are answering a question, not just building a model of something.

The days of making a volcano or building a light circuit as a science fair project are long gone.

If your students follow the Scientific Method or Engineering Design Process, they will naturally select the right kind of project that will do well at SARSEF or any competition.

Topics to Avoid

  • Any topic that boils down to a simple preference or taste comparison. (For example, “Which tastes better: Coke or Pepsi?”) Such experiments don’t involve the kinds of numerical measurements we want in a science fair project. They are more of a survey than an experiment.
  • Most consumer product testing of the “Which is best?” type. This includes comparisons of popcorn, bubblegum, make-up, batteries, detergents, cleaning products and paper towels.
  • Effects of colored light on plants. Several people do this project at almost every science fair. You can be more creative!
  • Effect of music or talking on plants. Difficult to measure, and has been done a million times already.
  • Effect of running, music, video games or almost anything involving blood pressure. The result is either obvious (the heart beats faster when you run) or difficult to measure with proper controls (the effect of music).
  • Effect of color on memory, emotion, mood, taste, strength, etc. Highly subjective and difficult to measure.
  • Any topic that requires measurements that will be extremely difficult to make or repeat, given your equipment. Without measurement, you can’t do science.

Topics to NOT Do At All

Any topic that violates the rules of virtually any science fair will disqualify a student before it is even judged.

These include:

  • Any topic that requires dangerous, hard to find, expensive or illegal materials.
  • Any topic that requires drugging, pain or injury to a live vertebrate animal.
  • Any topic that creates unacceptable risk (physical or psychological) to a human subject.
  • Any topic that involves collection of tissue samples from living humans or vertebrate animals.

Which Process to Follow

Projects will be judged using one of two sets of criteria: either the Scientific Method or the Engineering Design Process.

Although very similar, scoring is slightly different.

Some projects fit well under both areas; however it is best to have your student decide which he or she will be using to complete a project, and then stick to it.

Read below for a quick description of each process or visit the Judging Criteria for more details.

Scientific Method or Engineering Design?

Scientists study how nature works. Engineers create new things — such as products, websites, environments and experiences. Because engineers and scientists have different objectives, they follow different processes in their work. Scientists perform experiments using the Scientific Method; engineers follow the creativity-based Engineering Design Process.

Scientific Method

The Scientific Method is a way to ask and answer scientific questions by making observations and doing experiments.

The steps of the scientific method are to:

  • Decide what you already care about
  • Ask a question
  • Do background research
  • Construct a hypothesis
  • Test your hypothesis by doing an experiment
  • Analyze your data and draw a conclusion
  • Communicate your results

It is important for your experiment to be a fair test. A “fair test” occurs when you change only one factor (variable) and keep all other conditions the same.

If your project involves creating or inventing something new, your project might better fit the steps of the Engineering Design Process.

Engineering Design

The Engineering Design Process is the set of steps that a designer takes to go from identifying a problem or need, to creating and developing a solution that solves the problem or meets the need.

The steps of the Engineering Design Process are to:

  • Define the problem
  • Do background research
  • Specify requirements
  • Create alternative solutions
  • Choose the best solution
  • Do development work
  • Build a prototype
  • Test and redesign

During the Engineering Design Process, designers frequently jump back and forth between steps. Going back to earlier steps is common. This way of working is called “iteration,” and it is likely that your process will do the same!

Remember: While engineers create new things — such as products, websites, environments and experiences — scientists study how nature works. If your project involves making observations and doing experiments, your project might better fit the Scientific Method.

Categories and Subcategories

The categories listed below are those used at SARSEF K-12 (for the high school level, they match those used at the Intel ISEF.)

Projects for SARSEF may be completed in any one of the following categories:

NEW!!!  Categories for High School Level

Category Selection
Many projects could easily fit into more than one category. It is the student’s decision to choose the category that most accurately describes their project but they will need help.
Ask the following questions to help in the selection of a category:
Who will be the most qualified to judge the project? What area of expertise is the most important for the judge to have? (For example: a medical background or an engineering background.)
What is the emphasis of the project? What characteristic of my project is the most innovative, unique or important? (For example: Is it the application in medicine or the engineering of the machine? Is it inserting the proper gene, or the method of computer mapping to demonstrate the results?)

Animal Sciences (AS)

Behavioral and Social Sciences (BE)

Biomedical and Health Sciences (BH)

Cellular and Molecular Biology (CM)

Chemical and Biochemical Sciences (CB)

Earth and Environmental Sciences (EE)

Energy and Environmental Engineering (EN)

Engineering: Electrical and Mechanical (EM)

Engineering: Materials and Bioengineering (MB)

Microbiology (MI)

Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics (PM)

Plant Sciences (PS)

Robotics and Computer Sciences (RC)

NEW!!! Categories for Middle School Level

Category Selection
Many projects could easily fit into more than one category. It is the student’s decision to choose the category that most accurately describes their project but they will need help.
Ask the following questions to help in the selection of a category:
Who will be the most qualified to judge the project? What area of expertise is the most important for the judge to have? (For example: a medical background or an engineering background.)
What is the emphasis of the project? What characteristic of my project is the most innovative, unique or important? (For example: Is it the application in medicine, or in the engineering of the machine? Is it inserting the proper gene, or the method of computer mapping to demonstrate the results?)

  • Animal and Plant Sciences (AP):  The study of animal and plant life, including their structure, function, life history, interactions with other plants and animals, classification, and evolution. Includes: Animal Behavior, Development and Growth, Ecology, Genetics/ Breeding, Nutrition and growth, Pathology, Physiology, Soil and Pesticides, Systematics, and Evolution.
  • Behavioral and Social Sciences (BE):  The science or study of the thought processes and behavior of humans and other animals in their interactions with the environment studied through observational and experimental methods. Includes work on Psychology and Sociology.
  • Cellular and Microbiological Sciences (CM):  The study of the cells and microorganisms. Including cell structure and formation, genetics, immunology, systems within the cell, antimicrobial agents, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and pathogens.
  • Chemical Sciences (CH):  The science of the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter and/or their interactions with living organisms. Includes the study of the design, synthesis and properties of substances, including condensed phases (solids, liquids, polymers) and interfaces, with a useful or potentially useful function, such as catalysis or solar energy.
  • Earth and Environmental Science (EE):  Earth and Environmental Science are studies of the environment and its effect on organisms/systems, including investigations of biological processes such as growth and life span, as well as studies of Earth systems and their evolution.  Including: Atmospheric Science, Climate Science, Environmental Effects on Ecosystems, Geosciences, Water Science.  
  • Energy and Environmental Engineering (EN): Energy is the study of renewable energy sources and structures, energy efficiency, biological and chemical processes of renewable energy sources, clean transport, and alternative fuels. Includes: Hydro Power, Solar Power, Wind Power, Thermal Power, Sustainable Design, Alternative Fuels, Fossil Fuel Energy, Fuel Cells and Battery Development, Microbial Fuel Cells. Environmental Engineering are studies that engineer or develop processes and infrastructure to solve environmental problems in the supply of water, the disposal of waste, or the control of pollution. Including:  Bioremediation, Land Reclamation, Pollution Control, Recycling and Waste Management, Water Resources Management
  • Engineering Robotics, and Computer Science (ER): Engineering studies the design, manufacture, and operation of machines, structures, processes, and systems. Includes, Aerospace and Aeronautical, Electrical, Mechanical, Civil, Construction, Industrial, Processing, Ground and Naval vehicles. Robotics is studies in which the use of machine intelligence is paramount to reducing the reliance on human intervention such as Biomechanics, Cognitive Systems, Control Theory, Robot Kinematics, Machine Learning.  Computer Science is the study and development of technological software and hardware and information processes. Includes: Programming, Algorithms, Data Bases, Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, Networking and Communications, Computational Science, Computer Graphics, Software Engineering, Programming Languages, Computer System, Operating System.
  • Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics (PM): Physics is the science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two. Includes: light, sound, magnetism and motion.  Astronomy is the study of anything in the universe beyond the Earth.  Mathematics is the study of the measurement, properties, and relationships of quantities and sets, using numbers and symbols.

NEW!!! Categories for Elementary Level

Category Selection
Selecting a category at this level can be difficult for some. Many projects could easily fit into more than one category. It is students’ decision to choose the category that most accurately describes their projects, but at the elementary level they will definitely need help.
Ask the following questions to help in the selection of a category:
Who will be the most qualified to judge the project? What area of expertise is the most important for the judge to have? (For example: a medical background or an engineering background.)
What is the emphasis of the project?

You can ask the student what characteristic of their project is the most innovative, unique or important. (For example, is it the application in medicine … or the engineering of the machine? Is it inserting the proper gene, or the method of computer mapping to demonstrate the results?)

  • Animal and Plant Sciences (AP):  The study of animal and plant life, including their structure, function, life history, interactions with other plants and animals, classification, and evolution. Includes: Animal Behavior, Development and Growth, Ecology, Genetics/ Breeding, Nutrition and growth, Pathology, Physiology, Soil and Pesticides, Systematics, and Evolution.
  • Behavioral and Social Sciences (BE):  The science or study of the thought processes and behavior of humans and other animals in their interactions with the environment studied through observational and experimental methods. Includes work on Psychology and Sociology.
  • Cellular and Microbiological Sciences (CM):  The study of the cells and microorganisms. Including cell structure and formation, genetics, immunology, systems within the cell, antimicrobial agents, bacteria, viruses, fungi, and pathogens.
  • Chemical Sciences (CH):  The science of the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter and/or their interactions with living organisms. Includes the study of the design, synthesis and properties of substances, including condensed phases (solids, liquids, polymers) and interfaces, with a useful or potentially useful function, such as catalysis or solar energy.
  • Earth and Environmental Science (EE):  Earth and Environmental Science are studies of the environment and its effect on organisms/systems, including investigations of biological processes such as growth and life span, as well as studies of Earth systems and their evolution.  Including: Atmospheric Science, Climate Science, Environmental Effects on Ecosystems, Geosciences, Water Science.  
  • Energy and Environmental Engineering (EN): Energy is the study of renewable energy sources and structures, energy efficiency, biological and chemical processes of renewable energy sources, clean transport, and alternative fuels. Includes: Hydro Power, Solar Power, Wind Power, Thermal Power, Sustainable Design, Alternative Fuels, Fossil Fuel Energy, Fuel Cells and Battery Development, Microbial Fuel Cells. Environmental Engineering are studies that engineer or develop processes and infrastructure to solve environmental problems in the supply of water, the disposal of waste, or the control of pollution. Including:  Bioremediation, Land Reclamation, Pollution Control, Recycling and Waste Management, Water Resources Management
  • Engineering Robotics, and Computer Science (ER): Engineering studies the design, manufacture, and operation of machines, structures, processes, and systems. Includes, Aerospace and Aeronautical, Electrical, Mechanical, Civil, Construction, Industrial, Processing, Ground and Naval vehicles. Robotics is studies in which the use of machine intelligence is paramount to reducing the reliance on human intervention such as Biomechanics, Cognitive Systems, Control Theory, Robot Kinematics, Machine Learning.  Computer Science is the study and development of technological software and hardware and information processes. Includes: Programming, Algorithms, Data Bases, Cybersecurity, Artificial Intelligence, Networking and Communications, Computational Science, Computer Graphics, Software Engineering, Programming Languages, Computer System, Operating System.
  • Physics, Astronomy, and Mathematics (PM): Physics is the science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two. Includes: light, sound, magnetism and motion.  Astronomy is the study of anything in the universe beyond the Earth.  Mathematics is the study of the measurement, properties, and relationships of quantities and sets, using numbers and symbols.

Empowering Southern Arizona's K-12 students to participate in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math

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