How To Win At Science Fairs (Dec, 1960)

How To Win At Science Fairs

by Ronald Benrey

YOU CAN WIN at a Science Fair as long as one thing interests you more than winning does. This is your project itself. It is going to be judged on scientific thought, creative ability, and presentation. You will really have to know the field your project is concerned with. This takes effort. Since you lack the means of a professional laboratory, you will have to do much with little. This takes trial and error and just plain work. Your presentation must be attractive and clear. This means good workmanship, which takes time and care. You are going to have to show some originality. After all, there is no use doing what everybody else is doing: be different. For this, you have to have the other three under control. By the way, the “laymen” who see your exhibit will ask all kinds of questions. Have good answers at your fingertips. The judges won’t be laymen, and any double-talk will scream to them that you don’t know your subject. It may also make them suspect that the best parts of your project are not your work. This would be unjust, perhaps, but deadly. Now, whether your entry covers a large table top or can just be tucked under your arm, it is going to be a big job. It can’t be left for a “crash program” in the last few weeks before the Fair. It is going to eat up big portions of your time, energy, and spending money for the next several months. All this demands your interest. But it isn’t simply a matter of “fun. ” Licking this challenge may be a turning point in your life. With or without a scholarship prize, your career may begin with it.

Planning

As a reader of Electronics Illustrated your project will probably deal with electronics or applied physics rather than with biological or earth sciences. Select your topic carefully from a broad subject that really interests you. A massive effort in the direction of a passing fancy will result in a mediocre project at best. Take a limited subtopic that you think worth investigating and that you feel able to handle.

To ease financial strain, plan now to build your project over a long period of time, say six months, on a pay-as-you-build basis.

Once you have a rough idea of your project’s general form, don’t dash into construction.

Visit technical libraries and learn all you can about current professional work in the field, and its technical jargon. This will give you much important information and helpful hints, and when you finally face the judges, you will know your subject.

Ability

Here is a prickly question. It is up to you to be realistic and honest with yourself when you choose a topic. Your science teachers and advisers will certainly be helpful, but the final decision must be yours. In other words, if you have never handled a soldering iron before, don’t take on a project requiring elaborate electronic instrumentation. If you have enough time you can work up to a complex project by building a few simpler devices, like many described in EI. This is another reason for starting NOW. – Why not get your feet wet by assembling some test equipment from kits? You will certainly need a multimeter anyway, for any project, and it will be something you can use “forever. ”

Originality

Another touchy subject: discussion of this often scares off good potential science fairers. Nobody requires or expects a science fair project to produce a radical new scientific discovery. However, this does not imply that an entrant can’t find a new angle on an old problem. Merely duplicating a project described in a magazine shows the judges only one thing: the builder can follow directions. The main benefit of entering a science fair is the challenge of thinking a real problem out, all the way through. Your project can be for “demonstration” rather than “research, ” but make sure you come up with fresh, clear, meaningful ways to present your material. Stay away from last year’s winning project: it was good last year. Avoid “staples” (like Tesla coils) unless they are only part of a ‘wider original project.

Construction

Your project should be well presented and look impressive, but impressive need not mean expensive. Judges seldom look twice at an exhibit loaded down with excess and borrowed equipment when the same results could have been obtained more economically and without false show. Novel use of common materials shows creative ability, and this is an important judging criterion. Remember, how you solved your problem is what counts at a science fair, and not merely that you solved it. Also, neatness counts! Aside from being impossible to troubleshoot, a rat’s nest of wiring is typical of losing projects. Time spent color-coding leads, installing wire harness and cable clamps will result in a much more attractive and more reliable project. But know what you are doing! Don’t harness leads in a circuit that demands point-to-point wiring, or cable grid and plate leads together in an amplifier circuit. Read up on layout and construction techniques, and allow yourself time to make and correct mistakes. Prior planning will also pay off in dollars and cents, since you can save by purchasing some components (like resistors) in quantity, and if you live near a big city you can shop around for some items in the military surplus stores, modifying your design if necessary to take odd-value components. Now, sit back and start your thinking. The time to start is right now.

IS YOUR WINNING PROJECT HERE?

RADIO TELESCOPE: Home-built sensitive low-noise receiver, simple antenna system. Try to make simple “radio map.”

GUIDANCE SYSTEM: For model ear. Can be programmed to run around science fair grounds without hitting anything, or to reach pre-chosen destination.

SOLAR CELLS: Home-built unit as part of demonstration of basic physics of solar cells: display on recent professional research results: off-beat practical applications (eyeglass type hearing aid?).

MOON MOUSE: “To be landed on the Moon. ” Self-propelled, radio controlled from Earth, instrumented and transmitter equipped. Some functions solar powered ?

These are only suggestions. You may come up with ideas regarding fuel cells, space communications, navigation, etc.

4 comments
  1. fluffy says: June 23, 20088:31 am

    This should be required reading for kids today. When I was growing up I was a frequent participant in the science fair and always did rather well, not because my projects were ever inherently wonderful but because my peers’ projects were absolutely dreadful. Later on, when I was a grad student I occasionally judged the local science fair, and it seemed like today’s kids have an even worse grasp on how to put together a project.

    As a judge, the project which left the biggest impression on me was for all the wrong reasons. It was ostensibly a “physics” project, about what a universe made of antimatter would be like. His “experiment” was essentially a long-winded ramble about how it would be exactly like our current universe (except that what we call “matter” would be called “anti-matter,” of course!), fueled by a single reference (some puff piece in Scientific American). He had a hypothesis and a conclusion, but no procedure, data, or results.

    Then there were all the projects where the kids changed their methodology partway through or made incredible leaps of logic to try to justify their hypothesis from data which didn’t fit it (they didn’t realize that disproving a hypothesis is much more important than proving one!).

    Okay I guess I kind of went off on a tangent-rant there.

  2. Ari says: June 24, 20085:41 am

    Great advice! Nothing I didn’t already know, but nevertheless a great reinforcement!

  3. bradley says: September 10, 200810:35 am

    what topics can i do at a scienes fairs

  4. bradley says: September 10, 200810:35 am

    what topics can i do

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