Science fair projects are essential opportunities for experiential learning in STEM education. Starting in upper elementary school, science fairs teach students to apply the scientific method for better understanding the world around them. Participants also learn how to prepare well-organized papers and give good presentations. Some science fair winners also reap big cash prizes. For example, the Intel ISEF offers a top prize of $75,000! Impressing the judges will require an innovative idea that goes beyond the traditional lemon battery experiment though. In no particular order, the following are 10 great science fair ideas for winning first place in 2017.
1. Propagate Plants Without Seeds
Sexual propagation from seeds is the most well-known method for growing new plants; however, the vegetative method allows you to propagate plants without seeds too. Here you’ll use spider plants to test this asexual breeding. Three containers will be filled with different planting media: sterile potting mix, vermiculite, and water. Cut off three plantlets by the stem and place them in three cups. Record their growth on a warm shelf with indirect lighting and consistent watering. Ideally, each plant will develop roots within two weeks.
2. Turn Milk into Plastic
In the early-20th century, the casein in milk was popularly used to create plastic ornaments. You can become a chemist with this beginner project and turn milk into plastic too. Begin by heating one quart of milk in the microwave to at least 120 degrees Fahrenheit. Have an adult help pour the hot milk into four mugs with varying levels of vinegar. As the curds form, pour the milk through another cup covered with cloth. Squeeze all the extra liquid out of the casein curds and sculpt it into fun shapes before it hardens.
3. Measure the Moon
Young astronomy enthusiasts could devote their science fair project to measuring the moon. This four-week project involves consulting a lunar calendar to schedule data collections for each moon phase: New Moon, First Quarter, Full Moon, and Last Quarter. When night arrives, point your light meter toward the moon and record the light values (LV) between -17 and 17. Next, visit the U.S. Naval Observatory website to ascertain the moon’s current percent illumination. Continue this process three more times throughout the month and make a bar graph to find which phase creates the most light.
4. Build a Solar-Powered Bristlebot
Science fair ideas using “green” renewable energy sources like the solar-powered bristlebot are popular. This intermediate project will assess kids’ engineering skills by developing a miniature robot with toothbrush feet. You’ll use a tiny breadboard, AAA batteries, vibration motors, solar cells, and jumper wires to develop an electrical circuit. A toggle switch allows the robot’s power to change from stored to solar energy. Getting creative with googly eyes and colorful chenille stems is encouraged. Then, test the bristlebot in sunny and cloudy conditions to determine weather’s effect on each power type.
5. Make Your Own Psychrometer
If you’re a budding meteorologist, show off at your science fair by making your own psychrometer, a device used to measure the atmosphere’s humidity level. This intermediate project involves mounting two thermometers together. Wet a piece of gauze to wrap around one thermometer’s bulb while leaving the other dry. Swinging the psychrometer through the inside or outside air will cause water to evaporate from the gauze for a different reading. You’ll then look up the current barometric pressure to calculate relative humidity from the wet bulb’s reading.
6. Grow Rock Candy Crystals
Students with a sweet tooth can grow rock candy crystals by creating a saturated sugar-water solution. You’ll start by soaking a piece of yarn in a cup of water for five minutes. Then wring out excess water and roll the yarn in one tablespoon of sugar. Tie a screw or bead onto the yarn’s end as a weight and skewer the top with a pencil. Next, add boiling water and two cups of sugar into the preheated jar before lowering the weighted yarn in. Make observations for one week as yummy candy crystals grow.
7. Experiment With Friction
Winter is the perfect time to experiment with friction, the resistance when one object moves over another. Physics students can begin by soaking one 2×4 piece of wood in water and letting it freeze overnight. Take a lidded plastic tub and fill it with sand. Next, build a ramp using a stack of books and another dry 2×4. Place the tub onto the ramp and record the heights at which it slips. You’ll repeat the same process for the icy wood. Take notice of how friction affects how well the tub slides on the differing surfaces.
8. Study the Biomechanics of Pitching
Student-athletes who idolize baseball greats like Roger Clemens and Cy Young will enjoy studying the biomechanics of pitching. This simple science fair project involves analyzing how the human body pitches a ball. You’ll securely tie a clothesline between two poles and attach an old bed sheet with an “X” in the middle. Measure a spot 40 feet away where you’ll stand. While recording yourself, pitch the ball with no stride forward. Then pitch the ball with a normal, comfortable stride. Calculate the average speed by dividing the distance by the pitch time.
9. Design a Virtual Reality Headset
Virtual reality (VR) headsets are hot market items for viewing 3D images and videos. Therefore, a fun science fair project could be redesigning your own! First, you’ll download the official specifications for a Google Cardboard headset. Carefully use an art knife to cut your cardboard and attach its components with double-sided tape accordingly. Now’s the time for creativity. Brainstorm ways you could improve the engineering design process. For example, you could add a head strap or padding for more comfort. Recruit volunteers to test the VR headset and record their feedback.
10. Test the Effectiveness of Disinfectants
Future clinicians may enjoy this science fair project testing how well disinfectants work to kill germs lurking on fomites. Begin by diving a cutting board into six quadrants. Don gloves to evenly wipe lunch meat over the board. The next day, cleanse every section with different disinfectants, including a control (water). Use a nutrient agar plate to culture bacteria from each. Leave the plates on a cookie sheet in a warm place for two days until bacterial colonies show. Graph the results to determine which disinfectants performed the best and worst.
There are hundreds of possible projects you could pick for your upcoming science fair. It’s important to choose a fun project that aligns with your interests and grade level. Projects can blossom from any scientific question, such as will frozen seeds sprout or can mice distinguish color. Use these science fair ideas as inspiration to develop and test your own innovative hypothesis.