Before You Start a Project

Starting a project can be daunting but if you stay organized you will end up with agreat project!  Read the whole list before you get started.

  • Begin a science journal that includes everything you do for your research! Record dates for each entry.  This will be included in your presentation of your research, so write neatly!
  • Read about your topic to develop some background knowledge. Write down your sources for your bibliography.
  • Develop a research question or engineering problem.
  • Think about your experimental design or engineering design process. Do NOT do or buy anything yet!!!
  • Be sure your project will follow all ISEF Rules!

    All ISEF rules must be followed. The rules change from year to year so it is essential to review the rules carefully with your adult sponsor. Use the ISEF rules wizard carefully to be sure you read and understand all the warnings, rules, and forms that apply to your project.

    Many projects recommended in books and on the web do not meet ISEF standards and will not be accepted at the NC Science and Engineering Fair.

  • Write a research plan.The plan should include the following:
    • Question or problem,
    • Goals/expected outcomes/hypotheses,
    • Methods or procedures,
    • Types of data to be collected and how it will be analyzed,
    • Bibliography.  Students are required to have five (5) major references for the bibliography. 
  • Fill out your entry forms. These should be signed and dated BEFORE you begin experimenting.  ALL students in North Carolina will be required to use the ISEF forms.  We will no longer use a different form for elementary and middle school students.

Who can help with your project?

Depending on the details of your project, there are several adults who can and some who must help you with your science fair project.  Make sure you check the rules relevant to your project to make sure that you get the required help you need.

Adult Sponsor

  • Oversees project to make sure that student
  • A teacher usually serves as Adult Sponsor but can also be a parent

Qualified Scientist

  • Required for some projects
  • Doctoral/professional degree related to student research or
  • Masters degree with SRC approval (see below)
  • Completes Qualified Science Form 2

Designated Supervisor

  • Animal Care Supervisor for vertebrate animal projects
  • Supervises projects involving hazardous chemicals, activities or devices
  • Supervises projects requiring a Qualified Scientist when the Qualified Scientist cannot directly supervise the student

IRB (Institutional Review Board)

  • Reviews human subject studies
  • Membership must include:
    • an educator
    • a school administrator
    • someone knowledgeable about evaluating physical and/or psychological risk: MD, PA, RN, psychiatrist, psychologist, licensed social worker or licensed clinical professional counselor

SRC (Scientific Review Committee)

  • Reviews some projects before experimentation
  • Reviews all projects just prior to competition
  • All school and regional fairs have an SRC. Please visit your region's webpage or contact your school or regional director regarding to whom you should address questions.
  • There is a State level SRC that reviews all projects prior to the State level fair. If you have any questions regarding rules please email.
  • Membership must include:
    • a biomedical scientist (Ph.D., M.D., D.V.M., D.D.S., D.O.)
    • an educator
    • one other member

Science and Engineering Projects

You can do a SCIENCE project or an ENGINEERING project for competition in the NCSEF.  But do you know the difference?


Research a topic you are interested in.
Answer a question. Solve a problem.
Use a notebook or journal to keep detailed notes, drawings and data during the entire project.
Design an experiment to collect data that will help you answer the question. Design a device or object that can be tested to solve a problem
Uses the Scientific Method. Uses the Engineering Design Process.
Collect data to see how the dependant variable is affected by the independent variable. Collect data to test how well the project solves the problem.
Project can be presented at NC regional and state-wide science and engineering fair.




Planning and Doing a Project

To make sure  that projects are done well, you should start no later than the beginning of the school year. Make a planning timetable so that you will have enough time to carry out all the steps in the process. Below is a suggested timetable and plan of action.

1-2 Select a problem or question and begin research. Read publications, textbooks, and reference books. Consult teachers and other scientists who might help you.
3-4 Continue research. Design science experiments and method of investigation, or brainstorm solutions to the engineering problem. Discuss with others.
4-5 Collect material needed. Set up necessary equipment  Write your research plan.
5-13 Begin and complete science experiment.  Create and test the engineering problem solution. Be sure to set aside time for observing and recording each day. When making observations and recording results, organize data in orderly tables and charts.
13-16 Interpret results and data, draw conclusions, consider applications. Consult with teachers or other scientists. Construct models, illustrations, and/or displays. Finish research paper. Prepare for oral presentation of the project report. Remember, some of the most useful information can come from talking to other people who are interested in your topic.


Do the Work Yourself

This is your project! One purpose of the science fair is to encourage you to do experiments. Do most of the work yourself; develop the idea on your own. Ask a question and then design an experiment to try to answer it.

You are encouraged to get advice from others, and you may need them to help with construction of an apparatus, but the project should be basically your project.

Start Early

It always takes longer than you think to do a good science project. You may have delays getting materials, constructing the apparatus, writing the report or making the display. Your proposed project may not work as you feel it should, and you may wish to start another one.

Work Regularly

Do not put it off until you have time; make time! Set aside a regular time to work even if only for a short time. Keep a written record at every stage of the project.

Research Presentation

A report of the research should be presented on a display board. A suggested format follows:

A. Title

B. Abstract–a brief condensation of the entire report, in one page or less

C. Statement of the problem

D. Experimental methods

E. Results–this may include tables and graphs

F. Conclusions

G. References–use correct bibliographic form in repeating references. One quick means of determining correct form is to look at an article in a scientific publication, such as Scientific American, Science, The Science Teacher, Journal of Chemical Education, or American Biology Teacher. Note the bibliographic form used in references at the end of an article in a recent issue of one of these journals.

Displays will be restricted to a space 122 cm wide (side to side), 76 cm deep (front to back), 198 cm in height (from tabletop), or 274 cm in height (floor to top).

Oral Presentation

Students should be at their exhibit during judging at the fair. Judges will have some questions about your project.

A. Questions commonly asked by judges

  • "Tell me about your project."
  • "What did you find out?"
  • "Why did you do your project this way?"
  • "What does that word mean?"
  • "Why do you think your results turned out as they did?"
  • "If going to study this more, what would you do next?"

B. Suggestions

  • Be able to explain your project in 1/2 to 1 minute.
  • Talk clearly and simply. Act interested and enthusiastic.
  • Dress neatly and attractively.
    • Practice your talk before others. Get others to ask you questions; learn answers to questions that you do not know.

Online Resources

Science Buddies
Science Buddies is a non-profit organization that provides free online resources for science education. The website helps K-12 students do better science fair projects. The Topic Selection Wizard offers a large online library of project ideas and Starter Kits. Science Buddies also offers Ask an Expert, an online forum in which students can ask questions about their projects and get answers from scientists and engineers who volunteer as e-mentors. Science Buddies also maintains a set of teacher resources for science fair planning and a science fair project help guide.

How to Do a Science Fair Project
The six-part video series features JPL scientist Serina Diniega, engineer Arby Argueta, and educator Ota Lutz, who team up to take viewers step by step through the project design process, from generating an idea to communicating the final results in an attractive display. Students learn about one of the hardest steps in the process - generating an idea - from the perspectives of scientific investigation and engineering design, discovering how to observe and ask questions about the world around them that can serve as starting points for their projects.

Citation Machine
Citation Machine automatically generates citations in MLA, APA, Chicago, Turabian, and Harvard.  Use this tool to create the bibliography for your Research Plan.

A Time for Science
A Time for Science is non-profit nature and science learning center dedicated to advancing science literacy and competency by encouraging and supporting student participation in science, engineering, and math competitions. Its hallmark program is one of providing a supportive environment for the conduct of student research projects through sponsorship of age related (3rd through 12th grades) science/math Clubs, A Time for Science also develops and presents other appropriate programs and activities that foster these objectives.

Science is Fun! blog of science fair project ideas from NC science educator Beth Harris.  Topics range from projects you can do with your pets to experiments done in the bathroom.

The WWW Virtual Library - Science Fairs
Science fairs are held around the world. If you want to see what others are doing this site has hyperlinks to local, regional, state, foreign and even VIRTUAL science fairs.

The Internet Public Library
contains the Science Fair Resource Guide that offers teachers, students and parents a complete listing of web sites dedicated to science fairs and projects.  The site provides links to how to do a science fair project, samples, ideas, magazines and resources.  This site is arranged from the basic to the most detailed, with special notes to teachers and parents.  For more information about this resource, check out their web site.

MadSci Net
a component of the MAD Scientist Network.  This site contains links and resources on everything you ever wanted to know about science fairs, age-specific ideas for projects, as well as how to put a science fair together. Some of the links include: School Science Fair Homepage, Science Fair Idea Exchange, The Society of Amateur Scientists, Practical Hints for Science Fair Projects and Yahoo's listing of science fairs. 

Intel International Science and Engineering Fair
The Olympics, the World Cup and the World Series of science competitions. Held annually in May, the Intel ISEF brings together over 1,200 students from 48 states and 40 nations to compete for scholarships, tuition grants, internships, scientific field trips and the grand prize: a trip to attend the Nobel Prize Ceremonies in Stockholm, Sweden. Science Service founded the ISEF in 1950 and is very proud to have Intel as the title sponsor of this prestigious, international competition.