Types of Projects


What Types of Projects Can Students Do?

The days of making a volcano or building a light circuit as a science fair project are long gone. The most important advice we can offer is to make sure your students are answering a question, not just building a model of something.

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 that are not allowed

These violate the rules of virtually any science fair and will disqualify a student before their project is even judged.

  • 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: Scientific Method or Engineering Design?

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.

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.

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

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!


Every Child. Thinking Critically. Solving Problems.