The Basics of Science Fair Projects: Setting It Up to Impress the Judges

Come Up With an Award-Winning Idea

The first step in creating a high school science fair project is coming up with an idea. Brainstorm with a family member or friend to think of topics that you're interested in. For example, if you play a sport, you may want to design a science fair project about that sport. If you are interested in the environment, you may want to design your project with that in mind.

Here are some science ideas that a lot of high school students are interested in:

  • Renewable energy (e.g., solar energy, biomass, hydroelectric power, wind energy)
  • Pollution – water, air, and soil
  • DNA molecules and genetic topics
  • Impact of cigarettes, alcohol, or other substances on human performance
  • Media impact on human perceptions
  • Greenhouse gases and the ozone layer

Gathering Materials and Testing Your Hypothesis

Some projects require very few materials, and all of the materials are simple to obtain. Others may require more preparation. If you know someone who works in a science lab or in the medical field, they may be able to get permission for you to use some of their testing equipment. Even if you don't know someone in the field you'd like to study, you can call up a nearby college campus with a large science department to ask if they can help you with your experiment. Some will be glad to help a budding scientist! Then it's time to test your hypothesis. Make sure to have a control in your experiment, and be careful to change only one variable so that your experiment is reliable. For example, if you are examining which materials work best to make a solar oven, make sure to change only one material from the control in each oven that you make. This will ensure that your results reflect the effects of that one material you changed, as opposed to other changes you might have made.

Consider the Layout

One of the keys to producing an award-winning science fair experiment is knowing how to set up science fair board displays. Before you begin, consider how you would like to lay out all of the information from your science fair project. There is no correct way to layout a science fair board and how you approach it will depend on your science fair project and your own creativity.

Most science fair boards are tri-folds, which means that they are made of three sections that fold in the middle so that they can stand securely. To plan your layout, draw three large squares on a big piece of scrap paper.

Think about what you’d like to put in the center section. The title should always be prominently displayed at the top of the center section. As this section is the first that judges and passersby will notice, it should house the most important or interesting parts of your project. For some projects, this will be your question and the hypothesis. For others, it will be graphs or pictures of your data. Sketch what you think this information will look like into the center square of your scrap paper and then put the other components around it. Remember that we read from left to right so the earliest parts of your project should usually be on the left panel and the last steps (e.g., results, conclusion, discussion) should be on the right panel.

You can buy a tri-fold board from most office supply stores. Put the most important or eye-catching piece of information about your project in the center of the board, with the title in large, colored letters above it. Put any visual displays (e.g., models, tangible results) in front of your display board for the judges to see and manipulate.

Include All Components

Make sure to include all of the following components in your science fair display, unless recommended otherwise by the judges:

  • Title
  • Question/Problem
  • Research
  • Hypothesis
  • Experiment (including materials, procedure, constant, variables)
  • Data/Results (including graphs and charts)
  • Conclusion
  • Discussion

Make It Eye-Catching

Since your science fair display board is supposed to amaze the judges, you’ll want to make it as eye-catching as possible. That means trying to include visuals if possible, such as photographs, graphs, tables, and illustrations. These will make your display much more interesting than if it were just covered in text. You should also make sure to print your title in a large font and striking color so that the judges can see it easily, even from far away. The rest of the body text on your display may be in black and white but the heading of each section should be in a different color. You may also want to consider matting each section on a different color of cardstock or construction paper, so that the sections have colored borders around them.

Technical Details

Take a look at some of these other technical tips on how to set up science fair board displays:

  • Instead of using liquid glue to stick pieces of printer paper to your science fair display, consider using slightly thicker paper (such as cardstock) along with glue sticks or double-sided tape. This will decrease the chance of your papers wrinkling or showing glue lines.
  • Make sure to proofread every word on your display board for spelling mistakes, grammar errors, or typos.
  • Check the rules of the science fair to make sure that you have included everything required as these guidelines will vary from one fair to another.