How to Create a Winning Project.
- Pick a Worthy Topic
- Pick a topic
that interests you, challenges you, and hasn't been done in every
science fair since the dawn of time. Let's face it, it's difficult to find a totally unique
subject, but judges are not impressed with topics they've seen again and again. There's no
substitute for diligent and exhaustive research when looking for a
find detailed cookbook-like instructions for a project, it's usually
been done to death. Publications and web sites offering these types of
projects are of limited help.
Find a Mentor
Find a mentor who's an expert
in the area you're studying. Read articles, find one you like and
understand, then contact the author and ask a intelligent question about it.
If he or she answers, then attempt to keep the conversation (via e-mail)
going. With luck it will develop into a mentoring relationship. Nearby colleges and universities are also good sources for mentors. Note:
finding a mentor is the single most important element for developing a
- Find a Sponsor
- Find a sponsor who can help you get the
resources you need for your project. Often this is a well connected teacher.
It's good if your mentor and sponsor can be the same person, but the sponsor
does not need to understand all the technical details of your project. He or
she does need to understand how to get things done.
Research Background Information in Detail
Read and learn as much as possible about your
subject. You should know how to explain it and answer questions beyond the
immediate project. If you have done a thorough job of research in
picking your topic, background research will be easy.
- Collect Lots of Data
- Generate and replicate
lots of data points. The single biggest weakness of science fair
projects is the fact that they tend to draw sweeping conclusions with inadequate
amounts of data.
Analyze Data With Statistical Tools:
Use statistical analysis. Again, this is a major weakness of many projects.
Graphs alone are not as powerful as graphs with statistical analysis.
Put Together a Powerful Presentation: Yes,
your backboard's quality is very important but nothing can compensate
if you are unable to talk about your project. Put together a short
jargon-free presentation for judges who are not experts on your project and
a second more technical one for judges who are, then practice, practice, practice.
Have a knowledgeable person ask you questions to make sure you are prepared
beyond your presentation. How you communicate is a major factor
in how judges will perceive your project.
and SC Upstate Science & Engineering Fair - 2006
- All Grades
International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF):
"The world's largest pre-college science competition—provides an opportunity
... [to] compete for over $3 million in awards and scholarships". To qualify
... you must compete in the regional science fair and be selected as a
representative to ISEF.
- Freshmen - Juniors
(must be less than 18 years old)
"Davidson Fellows are extraordinary young people
who have completed a significant piece of work in mathematics, science,
technology, music, literature, and/or philosophy that has the potential to
benefit society. Individuals named as Davidson Fellows receive a $50,000,
$25,000 or $10,000 scholarship ..."
- Seniors Only
Siemens Westinghouse: Is open only to seniors. Has over $1 million dollars
in scholarships. Deadline for entries: Wednesday, October 1, 2003
Talent Search: $1.25 million in scholarships and awards. Top prize =
$100,000. Deadline for entries in the 63rd Intel Science Talent Search (2003 -
2004) is 11:59 p.m. (EST) Wednesday, November 19, 2003
Computer Related Projects
There's a saying that eventually biology
turns into chemistry; chemistry turns into physics; and physics turns into
math. The underlying thought: any movement towards mathematics results in
greater certainty and speed of development. Mathematical models are
incredibly powerful for predicting things like whether a bridge will
collapse or an aircraft fly.
However, getting mathematical models to converge on a solution can be
all but impossible. Computers can frequently solve these
problems with ease using a variety of techniques including numerical
algorithms, Monte Carlo simulations and brute force calculation power.
Computer models are revolutionizing science.
The use of computers is no longer limited to math and computer science projects. Use the ideas below
for search terms in Google or the Wikipedia as possible
starting points for researching your topic.
These devices are used for blocking e-mail spam. They can range from very
sophisticated to very simple and can be fairly easy to write.
Physics Simulations Accounting for Air Resistance: The reason air
resistance is ignored in most calculations has to do with the fact that it
generally requires a computer to do account for it.
Random Number Generators: There's no such thing as a perfect
random number generator. Usually they have to strike a balance between
performance and speed and are still a topic of research among computer
Monte Carlo Simulations: These are programs which use random
number generators to simulate complex problems. They can be extremely
complex or very simple. Simple simulations of this type can be done with
relatively little programming experience. The Marine Biology case study in
AP Computer Science is
an example of a Monte Carlo Simulation.
Perception Studies: Computer programs can output sounds and
colors. They can be programmed to flash timed text messages. These features can be
used for testing human perception, reaction times, etc.
- Artificial Intelligence:
This attempt to simulate the human brain functions. This includes neural
networks which are computer programs which learn.
- Artificial Life:
Uses computer simulations to derive general theories about life. the
Scientific American article "ARTIFICIAL LIFE: Boids of a Feather Flock Together"
is a great place to start.
automata: Cellular automata are computer programs that try to simulate
life at the cellular level. They attempt to explain how undifferentiated cells
can divide and become complex structures such as appendages.
- Chaos Theory:
This deals with non linear systems which can become chaotic. It
includes various forms of turbulence, animal populations, climate and the
- Fractals: These use relatively simple iterated equations to produce elaborate
- Number Series: There are many different type. Computers are commonly
used to discover new members of various series. This includes the search
numbers, mersenne primes,
Want a Hot Topic? Try Bioinformatics
Bioinformatics combines biology and computer
Science. Currently, genome information is coming in faster than it can be
analyzed. Many web sites are available with genetic sequence data as long
strings of made up of the letters A, C, G, and T. It's relatively easy from
a programming standpoint to write programs which analyze these strings for
various forms of information.
Where to Start:
Dolan DNA Learning Center: the world's first science center devoted entirely
to public genetics education with a web page featuring everything from video
Geneboy, a tool for exploring bioinformatics.
South Carolina DNA Learning Center: located at Clemson University offers all kind of training including
hands-on Saturday courses open to the public.
Gene Gateway: an huge site with all kinds of genome information.
This is the place to start when looking for sequence data.
contains an exhaustive amount of human genome sequence data from several
sources organized by chromosome. Identifies areas of chromosomes thought to
be associated with susceptibility to numerous types of diseases, disorders,
Bioalgorithms Web Site: A web site to accompany the book
An Introduction to Bioinformatics Algorithms
(see below). The site offers just the
right amount of information to help get started in bioinformatics.
Bioinformatics for Dummies
by Jean-Michel Claverie, Cedric Notredame
This book is highly recommended by readers
at Amazon.com and, for a technical book is reasonably priced. It's one
of the best places to start learning about the field.
An introductory college text that is
readable and packed with useful information. One of the best starting
points for getting into bioinformatics.