Steps to a Successful Science Fair Project

Science fair project

8 steps to a successful science fair project. Photo by terren.

  • Did the student learn something from the project?
  • Did the student follow the scientific method to complete the experiment?

If the answer to each these questions is yes, then the student was successful. Let me give you 8 steps to a Successful Science Fair Project.

  1. The first and most important step is the Selection of a Topic. The topic should be of interest to the student and selected prior to designing the science fair project. Example topics could include oceanography, basketball, ballet, sharks, micro-organisms, magnets, etc.
  2. The second step involves some creativity. At this point, you must ask a question about your topic that can be answered in an experiment. For example, if the topic was micro-organisms, the question might be, “What surface in my house contains the most bacteria?”
  3. Next, you must research the topic and discover background information that will be useful for your experiment. In order to answer the question above, you would need to know how to grow bacteria, how to take samples, optimum growth temperature, safety procedures, where do bacteria grow, etc.
  4. Then, you need to take the question from step 2 and reword it, so that, a purpose statement is created. From the question we created in step 2, our purpose statement could be, “The purpose of my experiment is to determine which surface in my home contains the most bacteria.”
  5. Now take the purpose of your experiment and develop a hypothesis. The hypothesis is an educated guess as to the outcome of your experiment. Your hypothesis could be, “My hypothesis is that the toilet seat has the most bacteria.” Don’t ever change your hypothesis. Your hypothesis is based on your research and knowledge. If the experiment disproves your hypothesis, that is OK. An incorrect hypothesis does not make an unsuccessful project.
  6. Design the experiment. This is where most people start. Never start with the experiment, because many times the outcome is know. Learning and using the scientific method is the most important part. During this step, you will determine the materials needed, explain the procedure, collect data and record results.
  7. Draw a conclusion. The conclusion is simply, “Was my hypothesis correct or incorrect?” Your conclusion might be, “In conclusion, my hypothesis was incorrect, the kitchen sink was actually the area that contained the most bacteria.”
  8. The final step is to make an attractive science fair display. You should have label headings, such as, Purpose, Hypothesis, Materials, Procedure, Data/Results, Conclusion. Display part of your experiment. If parts of the experiment are not able to be displayed, use photos that explain your procedure and results.

Solar Panels (Photovoltaic Cells)

Why are Photovoltaic Cells Black?

The dark color reduces the amount of photons reflected. Photons that are not absorbed by the panel cannot be used to produce electricity.

 

 

Solar Science Kit

Solar Science Kit

 

What are Photovoltaic Cells Made From?

Silicon is the major material in the cells. Pure silicon crystals are poor conductors of electricity. Other elements are added to the silicon, such as, phosphorus and boron. When the energy from the sun hits the cell, the electrons in the elements begin to move around. The sun causes the panel to have a positive and negative side. This electrical difference causes electrons to flow through a diode.

What Factors Affect the Production of a Solar Cell?

The factors that most affect the production of a solar cells are the angle of the panel in relation to the sun, the peak wattage, the light intensity and the hours of sun exposure.

How is Wattage (or Power) Calculated?

The formula for power is Power=Current X Voltage. Power is measured in watts, current in amperes and voltage in volts.

The Solar Science Kit has a small motor, photovoltaic cell and disc that works well in demonstrating this in a classroom or home setting.

Energy Conservation, Conversion, and Windmills

What is a Generator?

When a magnet moves toward a metal object, the electrons in the metal move. As a result, when a magnet moves near a copper wire, electrons in the copper move. Generators use this principle to convert mechanical energy (the rotation of a wire coil,or rotor around a magnet) into an electrical current (electrons flowing through the wire). A motor performs the opposite function by converting electrical energy into mechanical energy. For the most part, all generators work the same. The item that separates them is, “What turns the rotor?”

Windmill Generator Kit

Windmill Generator Kit

Energy Conversion in a Windmill

Obviously, in a windmill, the wind is rotating the wire coil around the magnet. This generator is taking the kinetic energy from the wind and converting it to electrical energy.

Windmills are rated based on output power (watts), working voltage (volts), start up windspeed (mph), survival wind speed (mph), rated rotation of the blades (rpm) and the diameter of the blades (also called the rotor). In general, the larger the rotor diameter the more wind that is intercepted and the more electricity produced. There are do-it-yourself plans available for building your own windmill. No waste or pollution is produced during this process.

When discussing this in the classroom or entertaining your children on the weekend, there are some small demonstration kits available. The Windmill Generator from 4M Kidz Labz TM is an excellent activity.

Owl Pellets and Owl Digestion

owlDissecting owl pellets is a fun and educational method of analyzing predator/prey relationships and for learning basic dissection techniques.

What is an Owl Pellet?

An owl pellet is the portion of an owl’s prey that has not been digested. Owl’s swallow their prey whole (they don’t have teeth to chew) and the feather’s, fur, bones and other undigestible parts are regurgitated by the owl.

How Does the Owl Pellet Form?

When the prey is swallowed, it travels through the esophagus and into the first part of the stomach, the proventriculus. Unlike other birds, the owl does not have a crop to store the food. As a result, the prey enters directly into the digestive tract. This part of the stomach has enzymes and acids (like our stomachs) to aid in digestion. From the proventriculus, the food travels to the second part of the stomach, the gizzard. The gizzard is a muscular organ that grinds the food and “filters” undigestible parts from traveling into the intestines.

The pellet is formed from the hair, bones or feathers that are left in the gizzard. The pellet will take several hours to form and several more before it is regurgitated. The owl cannot eat again until this pellet is expelled.

Does the Regurgitation of the Pellet Benefit the Owl?

Yes. Many scientists believe that this regurgitation of the pellet keeps the upper digestive tract clean.

Hydrolysis – The Splitting of Water

See the Oxygen molecules bubble and the indicator turn pink

See the Oxygen molecules bubble and the indicator turn pink

Hydrolysis Water Splitting

Using a 9V battery, 2 electrodes and small gauge wire, you can split water into its component parts. This process is called hydrolysis. We add a small amount of salt to increase the conductivity of the water and an acid/base indicator to visualize the reaction.

The chemical formula of water is H2O. When the electrical current, produced by the battery, passes through the water, the water will split and the two electrodes will bubble. Hydrogen will appear at the cathode and the oxygen at the anode. The acid base indicator around the cathode will turn blue (because the free OH molecules raise the pH) and the area around the anode will turn pink (because the free hydrogen molecules lower the pH).

Looking at the formula for water, there are twice as many hydrogen atoms as oxygen. When hydrolysis occurs, twice as many hydrogen bubbles will be released as oxygen. You can visually see extra bubbles at the point where hydrogen is being released.

Hydrolysis experiments can be quantitative (how much hydrogen and oxygen are released?) or qualitative (can I visually see the reaction taking place?)