Scientific research projects use the scientific method to study and evaluate an idea about how a particular element works. These require that the topic be researched, a working theory (or hypothesis) formulated that can be tested, an experiment performed, and the results recorded and reported. You may need to follow this procedure if you plan to present a project at a school science fair. However, learning to carry out these types of projects will be useful for anyone interested in science, and for anyone who wants to improve their problem-solving skills.
Part 1 of 2: Employing the Scientific Method
Step 1. Ask a question
Often times the hardest part of these projects will be determining what you want to research. You should take your time to choose, as all subsequent steps will focus on the idea that you have chosen.
- Think of something that interests you, surprises you, or confuses you; and determine if it is a reasonable thing to research for a project. Ask a single question that summarizes what you would like to analyze.
- For example, imagine you've heard that you can make a simple solar oven out of a pizza box. However, you may not believe that this can be done, or at least consistently. So this might be your question: "Can you make a simple solar oven that works consistently under various conditions?"
- Make sure you can handle the chosen topic taking into account the time frame, your budget and skill level; and that it does not break any rules of the assignment, the fair or the competition (such as avoiding animal testing). You can search online for ideas if you need help, but don't copy any projects you find, as this will also break the rules and be unethical.
Step 2. Research the topic
You can do this by reading reference and science books, surfing the internet, or chatting with an informed person. Knowing the topic in greater depth will help you build your research project.
- Consider the requirements of the project. Many science fairs require you to have at least 3 useful, solid, and reputable sources of reference.
- Your sources should be unbiased (eg, not related to a product for sale), not very old (something newer than a 1965 encyclopedia), and reliable (not an anonymous comment on a blog post). A good option will be web pages endorsed by a scientific organization or journal. Ask your teacher or project manager for guidance, if you need it.
- For example, the search words "How to make a solar oven out of a pizza box" will return multiple sources. Some are more scientifically based than others (and therefore reliable). If you find an article on the topic in a well-known and reputable publication, you should consider it a valid source.
- On the other hand, blog posts, anonymous articles, and mass collaboration materials might not work. No matter what a valuable resource wikiHow is (which has articles on solar ovens made from pizza boxes), it may not be considered a valid source for your scientific research project. If you choose well-developed articles with multiple footnotes (leading to other strong sources), this will increase the chances of acceptance, but you will have to consult on the subject with the instructor, the organizer of the fair, etc.
Step 3. Develop a hypothesis
This will be the theory of work or prediction that will be based on the question you have asked and the subsequent investigation. This must be accurate and clear, but it does not have to be checked for correctness for the project to be successful (in science, failed experiments will be just as important as successful ones).
- Often times, it will help to turn your question into a hypothesis by reflecting on terms that express cause and effect. You might have to formulate the hypothesis (at least initially) like this: "If [I did this], [the following would happen]."
- In the example above, the hypothesis could be this: "A solar oven made from a pizza box can heat food consistently anytime there is a lot of sunlight."
Step 4. Design the experiment
After having formulated a hypothesis, it will be time to evaluate whether it is valid or not. The experiment you design should focus solely on confirming or refuting the hypothesis. Keep in mind that it will not be important if you are correct, but how you carry out the process.
- To set up the experiment, it will be vital that you look at the variables. Scientific experiments have 3 types of variables: the independent (the one that you can change), the dependent (the one that changes in response to the independent variable) and the controlled (the one that does not change).
- When planning the experiment, you will need to take into account the materials that you will need. Check that you can get them easily and that they are affordable, or even better, use materials that you already have at home.
- In the case of the oven, you can get the materials and assemble them with ease. The oven, the food to be cooked (such as a dessert) and the intense sunlight will be the controlled variables. There are other environmental conditions (such as time, day, or time of year) that could be the independent variable; and "cooking" will be the dependent variable.
Step 5. Carry out the experiment
After the preparations and planning are complete, it will be time to test the validity of the hypothesis.
- Follow the steps you have planned to test the experiment to the letter. However, if you can't perform the test as planned, modify the steps or try other materials. If you really want to win the science fair, this will be an important step!
- It's common for science fairs to ask you to run the experiment at least 3 times to ensure you get a scientifically valid result.
- Suppose you want to test the solar oven by leaving it in direct sunlight on 3 similar days with a temperature of 32 ° C (90 ° F), and 3 times (at 10:00 am, 2:00 pm and 6:00 pm).
Step 6. Record and analyze the results
Even the most interesting and enlightening test will be of no use to your project if you don't accurately record and analyze the results.
- Sometimes you could record your data most effectively by using a graph, chart, or just a journal entry. Regardless of how you record them, make sure you can easily review and analyze them. You will have to keep accurate records of all results, even if you don't get what you expected or planned. This is part of science too!
- In the case of 3 hour oven tests on 3 sunny days, you will need to use the results you get. When recording the doneness of the dessert (e.g., how melted the chocolate or marshmallow is), you might notice that I only use it at 2:00 p.m. he was consistently successful.
Step 7. Develop the conclusion
Once you have performed the experiment and have confirmed or disproved the hypothesis, it is time to state your findings clearly and accurately. Basically, you will have to answer the question that you asked at the beginning.
- If you started with a straightforward, simple and clear question and a similar hypothesis; you will be able to develop your conclusion more easily.
- Do not forget that if you conclude that the hypothesis was totally wrong, this will not make the research project a failure. If you get clear, scientifically based findings and present them appropriately, this will be successful.
- In the oven example, the hypothesis could be "A solar oven made from a pizza box can heat food consistently as long as there is enough sunlight." However, you might come to a conclusion like this: "A solar oven made from a pizza box can only heat food with consistent success in the middle of a hot day."
Part 2 of 2: Explain and Present the Project
Step 1. Learn how they will evaluate the project
It could be a science class assignment, a science fair project, or any other job. In any case, it will be important that you know the criteria that will be used to evaluate your scientific research project.
For a fair, the evaluation could be based on the following criteria (for a total of 100%): research essay (50%), oral presentation (30%), exhibition poster (20%)
Step 2. Make an extract
You will most likely need to write a brief summary of the project, known as an excerpt. This will have to clearly express the idea, the hypothesis and the way in which you have evaluated it, and the conclusion that you have obtained.
Excerpts for these types of projects are usually limited to one page, and perhaps 250 words. In this short space, you will have to focus on the objective of the experiment, the procedures, the results, and any possible applications
Step 3. Write a research essay
The abstract will provide the basic information, while the research essay will provide the important details and analysis of the project. It is common to think that the experimentation or poster you create will be more important (perhaps because they are the most fun steps). However, the research essay is often the most important component for project evaluation.
- Review the guidelines that the teacher or the director of the fair provides, so you will obtain information on how to prepare the essay.
- For example, this might have to be divided into categories such as the following: 1) Cover; 2) Introduction (in which you will identify the topic and the hypothesis); 3) Materials and methods (where you will describe the experiment); 4) Results and findings (here you will identify the findings); 5) Conclusion and recommendations (where you will "answer" the hypothesis); 6) References (section in which you will list the sources).
Step 4. Prepare the oral presentation
The time allotted and the expected details of the oral presentation (if required) can vary greatly. You may have to talk for 5 or 20 minutes. Know the requirements clearly in advance (e.g. if a PowerPoint presentation will be requested).
- Write your research essay first and use it as a guide for your oral presentation. Use a similar outline when pointing out hypotheses, experiments, results, and conclusions.
- Focus on making your presentation clear and concise. Make sure everyone understands what you've done, why you did it, and what insights you've gained during the process.
Step 5. Prepare a visual complement
Most science fairs will require you to submit a poster about the project. Basically, this will be a visual sample of the research essay.
- Science fairs typically use a standard-size, 3-panel display board, which is about 35 inches (90 cm) high and 50 inches (120 cm) wide.
- You should create the poster as if it were the cover of a newspaper, with the title at the top, the hypothesis and conclusion front and center, and the supporting material (such as methods, sources, etc.) located clearly under headings on either side.
- Use images, diagrams, and other similar elements to enhance the visual appearance of the poster, but don't sacrifice content for this component alone.