I’m interested in participating in Science Fair - what is it and where do I start?

About science fairs

Science fairs can be a really fun, rewarding, and educating experience. Science fair projects encourage students to develop a question that they have about the world around them, and then design and carry out an experiment that aims to answer their question. Science fairs are meant to teach you how to think, work, and communicate like professional scientists do, by engaging hands-on with a topic that interests you and generating knowledge that can be shared with your community.

Poster at fair

In a science fair, information about your project is displayed visually as a poster for judges, who are experts in their field of science, to look at. They will also ask you questions about your experiments and topic of study. Judges then score your project and presentation on a judging rubric, and the scores for all of the projects are compared. Awards are given based on these numeric scores.

Projects are first entered in a school or district fair. These local fairs exist all over the state of Minnesota - if your science teacher does not mention a science fair occurring in your school, ask a teacher or school staff member when and where your local fair is. Projects that do well at the local fair may be advanced to one of 8 MN regional science fairs. The highest-ranked projects at regional move on to the MN State Science & Engineering Fair in the Twin Cities, where they have a chance to advance to the Intel International Science & Engineering Fair!

beginning a science fair project

Conducting experiment with mentor

Having an adult mentor is an important part of the science fair process, as they can help you find any necessary resources, develop an idea and experimental method, and conduct your experiments safely. Is there a science or math teacher at your school that you think could be a good mentor throughout your science fair experiment? Ask them! If they are unable to mentor you, they can likely point you in the direction of other potential mentors or resources.

As you begin to choose and plan a science fair project, think about topics that interest you. Did you have a favorite science/math unit in school? Is there a sport or extracurricular that you really enjoy? Do you like building things, or working with computers and electronics, or solving puzzles? Do you spend a lot of time in nature, or wondering about how people think and behave? What is interesting about your local community? If you pick a science fair project with a topic that you are interested in, the project will likely be more meaningful for you. Projects can be assigned to any one of the following categories, which are defined and explained here.

  • Energy: Physical (EGPH)

  • Engineering Mechanics (ENMC)

  • Environmental Engineering (ENEV)

  • Materials Science (MATS)

  • Mathematics (MATH)

  • Microbiology (MCRO)

  • Physics and Astronomy (PHYS)

  • Plant Sciences (PLNT)

  • Robotics and Intelligent Machines (ROBO)

  • Systems Software (SOFT)

  • Translational Medical Science (TMED)

  • Animal Sciences (ANIM)

  • Behavioral and Social Sciences (BEHA)

  • Biochemistry (BCHM)

  • Biomedical and Health Sciences (BMED)

  • Biomedical Engineering (ENBM)

  • Cellular and Molecular Biology (CELL)

  • Chemistry (CHEM)

  • Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (CBIO)

  • Earth and Environmental Sciences (EAEV)

  • Embedded Systems (EBED)

  • Energy: Chemical (EGCH)

developing your project

Once you have a topic or two in mind, think about a problem to solve or a question to answer. The best questions make a comparison that will allow the scientist (you) to control changes and observe the result of those changes. These questions might have a structure like:

  • What is the effect of _____ on _____?

  • How does _____ change _____?

  • What is the best/most efficient way to _____?

  • Which _____ is the most/least _____?

Adapted from teachercreated.com

Adapted from teachercreated.com

Next comes starting your experiment! The scientific method is a valuable procedure for conducting a science project that is used by many students and professional scientists alike. The steps of the scientific method can vary slightly based on the source, but here is an example of a general procedure. Remember, your mentor will be able to help guide you through this process!

Science Safety

It is important that all science fair participants conduct their experiments safely and ethically, to minimize potential danger to themselves, others, and their equipment. To ensure safety and ethical scientific practice, all projects are required to go through a Scientific Review Committee (SRC) for approval. This involves completing and submitting documents both before and after conducting experiments to show that all work was approved and supervised and had safety measures in place. More info about SRC and links to the SRC forms can be found here.

More Information

Check out our Resources page to find links for students and teachers about science news, researching scientific articles, developing experiments, and more.

Ken Mann’s Completing a Science Fair Project: 5 Steps to Success can be another great resource for beginning the science fair process.