Times-Saving Science Fair Project Tips

A question we get a lot around here goes something like this: “My kid needs a project, but we’ve got soccer, gymnastics, homework, and chores every day… we need a good science fair project and QUICK!”

Unfortunately, I don’t have an easy answer for this.  Most folks are still trying to cram a week’s worth of activities into a mere 24-hours, and then wonder why they have trouble coming up with great science project ideas.  It’s a miracle if dinner’s even on the table on soccer night.


Science fair projects can feel this way a lot.  They are usually something added ON TOP OF all the other stuff you have to do – homework from math, extra credit assignments from spelling, extra books to read and report on… and the last thing you need right now is yet another project, only this one is going to be judged.

So how can you survive this stressful science season and still enjoy the process? Well, I generally don’t think as well under pressure as I do when I am free to be creative and enjoy the process.  And one of the most powerful ways to generating great content (and projects) is total immersion.  Here’s what you can do to really make the process enjoyable and educational:

  1. Slow down. Schedule time in your week where you can sit with your project for at least a couple of uninterrupted hours.  To get your creative juices flowing and allow for side-tangents, this is the minimum amount of time you’ll need to get the most out of your efforts. This means no phone calls, internet surfing, computer games, or iPODs.  Your mind is totally free to focus entirely on the task at hand.
  2. Banish perfection. Take the stress out of trying to find the perfect project and focus rather on what you find interesting.  Bugs or brain cells? Rockets or robotics? Lasers or llamas?  Once you have a ballpark idea on what you want to learn more about, then you can start gathering your information.
  3. Start a journal. Even if your kid’s not a writer, it’s important to start logging what you’re finding interesting so you can go back and research more if needed (it’s also a great start to your report’s bibliography).    For non-writing kids, use a video camera to capture the sparkle in their eyes as they delve into their project.  Use still photos to paste into your journal as you go.
  4. Get help. Start tapping into resources you already have around you.  You don’t  need to re-invent the wheel, but you do need to make significant progress on your project.  Success always leaves clues, so look for kids that won last year and find out what exactly they did to make it to the top (if that’s your goal).  Chances are it had little to do with the official “topic” of study but rather the way they went about it. Find other local clubs in the area that would be helpful to you, from local astronomical clubs to airplane pilots to the tech at the pharmacy… they can all help steer you in the right direction.

So there you have it – time saving tips for your science fair project season.  While initially these tips may seem to take more time than they save,  you’ll find that the focus and clarity you get in return will be worth tenfold.

Happy Experimenting!

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Science Fair Tips

Hi there! It’s been a few months since my last post, so I wanted to be sure to get you great information now that I’m back in the swing of things!  One of the best ways you can encourage your child to do their own work is to provide them with the right tools and information that are interesting to them.  So if your kid is nuts about lasers and light but couldn’t care less about plants (and you’re a botanist!), doing a science fair project about photosynthesis probably isn’t going to work out so well.

However, if you toss a handful of spinach leaves in the blender along with a bit of water and whirl away… and then hit the plant juice with a UV (black) light, you’ll find that it glows red. Not only is this a great start to a science fair project, it will also kick-start their brain in a way that engages them in the project and leaves you on the sidelines as ‘coach’ (which is where you want to be anyway – this is THEIR work, not yours!)

There are tons of great ideas on this website about how to do interesting science just by using regular household materials (did you find the picture of the laser light show build inside tupperware on this site yet?)  And we’re here to help you through it. One of the things you want to do before you leave this site is download the ‘Free Stuff’ and see what you can find inside.

For older kids, the Free Guide isn’t going to be enough – you’ll actually need to check out our science fair project kits, especially the Linear Accelerator and the R.O.V. project.  The physics and math modeling behind the Linear Accelerator is enough to make a college student cry, so don’t go overboard on the the mathematics.  Just have fun and enjoy the process.

I’ll write more cool ideas soon, including how to make a homemade telescope and microscope.  Happy experimenting!


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More Science Fair Project Ideas

I know, I know… school’s out, and the last thing you’re thinking about is last-minute projects in science, of all subjects.  But this is just a quick note to let you know that we had such great feedback from the people that have used our online Science Fair Project Kits information that we’re going to add several additional topics for the 2009-10 school year, so be on the look-out for robotics, lasers, and rocketry!

See you in fall!


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Last Tips for the Science Fair Season

We get a lot of emails asking for the best science fair project idea so their child can blow away the competition.  Have you ever noticed which science fair project topics actually win?  We checked into a few of these science fair project winners ourselves just to be sure, and here’s what we found:

Science Fair Project Winners:

“Static Electricity in Different Materials”

“Blowing Up Bubble Gum – Sugarless or Regular?”

“Which Toothpaste Makes Your Smile Shine the Best?’

“Building Better Airplanes”

“Which Additives Make the Biggest Bubbles?”

So – do these science fair project ideas sound like rocket science?  You don’t have to build a nuclear reactor in your garage or find the cure for colds in order to score high with the science fair judges.  It’s not what you say, it’s how you do your experience and present your ideas to the crowd that really count. So while you’re purusing the internet for science fair project ideas, just note that it is more important how you carry out your experiment and deliver your message that will make or break your chances to the science fair project winner’s circle.

If you need help with that area, then be sure to check out our winning Science Fair Projects which include step-by-step instructions on how to cover all your bases and get it right the first time.  Otherwise, best of luck with your science fair project!

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Belching Science Projects

What happens if you belch in Antarctica?

Truth is, part of it would freeze into a solid chunk.

In our atmosphere, every gulp of air contains about 21% oxygen. With every breath you take in, your lungs transform about 20% of that oxygen into carbon dioxide.  Carbon dioxide freezes below -109 deg F, and in Antarctica, it can get below -140 deg F.  Dry ice, anyone?

But you can make burp gas without using a kid.  Did you know that the bubbles formed from combining vinegar and baking soda are also carbon dioxide?  And when you crack open a fresh bottle of soda, that PSSST! is also carbon dioxide?  And the combination of mentos and soda gives you the same thing.

What can you do with carbon dioxide? You can carefully fill a container with it and ‘pour’ the invisible gas over a lit candle the extinguish the flame.  You can make a balance and see which weights more – cup of ‘air’ (an empty cup) or a cup of carbon dioxide.

What happens when you freeze the cup of air and cup of CO2?  Does that change the weight measurement?

If you need more help, like how to pull together a written report and make a display board, be sure to visit our Science Fair Porject kits.

What else can you do?  Have fun!

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Science Fair Winners!

We received this email from a subscriber, and we wanted to pass it along for you to read!  Congrats to you both!

Dear Aurora,

I am writing to tell you that I won second place in the high school division (I am in 7th grade) with your help with my Gauss rifle project! My brother also had a terrific time with his project – fruit batteries. We were both also on the team that won first place with a study on capillary action in paper towels. Thank you so much for your great projects and patience in teaching them. We love science!

I am attaching photos of our science fair projects.

Thank you for the help!

Your friend,

Kerrick Sullivan

P.S. – Do you have any ideas on how to make spelling fun…yuck!

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Measuring the speed of light… the HARD way.

Okay, so if you’re a nut about physics, this is one I can sketch out fo you, but you’ll need to fill in the gaps on your own.  If you want an easier method, check out this post here.

You can recreate Galileo’s mountain-top experiment by arming yourself and a friend with identical digital watches and flashlights.  At a specified time, one of you flashes the light, and the other records the time when the flash is seen. The trouble with this is at unless you’re on different planets, you’re going to have a hard time seeing a less-than-instantaneous result.

You can modify this experiment so that you set up a mirror (instead of a friend) far away, and bounce a beam of light off the mirror and record the mound of time it takes for the light to travel the set distance.  And instead of using your eyeball to record “when” the flash of light returns, you can use a strip of film on a spinning wheel. A further step is to split the initial beam in two, and have one beam take a longer path to return home, and record the time difference on film (which you can back-calculate to get the time difference).

The first successful speed of light measurements were made by a Danish astronomer using an eclipse of Jupiter and Io.

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Freeze Swap

Fill a plastic container (such as a water bottle) about one-third full of water. Add one-third oil (so the bottle is now two-thirds full) and cap the bottle. Shake it up and see if you can get the two to mix. (If you add blue dye to the water beforehand, it makes this experiment easier to view.) Which is on top, the water or the oil? Stick the bottle in the freezer overnight (stand it upright and remove the cap first). Now which is floating on top?  What else can you test out?

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Making indoor rain clouds…

Chemistry Experiment: Indoor Rain Clouds Making indoor rain clouds demonstrates the idea of temperature, the measure of how hot or cold something is. Take two clear glasses that fit snugly together when stacked. (Cylindrical glasses with straight sides work well.) Fill one glass half-full with ice water and the other half-full with very hot water (definitely an adult job – and take care not to shatter the glass with the hot water!). Be sure to leave enough air space for the clouds to form in the hot glass. Place the cold glass directly on top of the hot glass and wait several minutes. If the seal holds between the glasses, a rain cloud will form just below the bottom of the cold glass, and it actually rains inside the glass! (You can use a damp towel around the rim to help make a better seal if needed.)

You can turn this into a science fair project by testing the effects of water temperature… what is the ideal water temperature to really ‘make it rain’?

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Microwaving Soap

When you warm up leftovers, have you ever wondered why the microwave heats the food and not the plate? (Well, some plates, anyway.) It has to do with the way microwaves work.

Microwaves use dielectric heating (or high frequency heating) to heat your food. Basically, the microwave oven shoots light beams that are tuned to excite the water molecule. Foods that contain water will step up a notch in energy levels as heat. (The microwave radiation can also excite other polarized molecules in addition to the water molecule, which is why some plates also get hot.)

The following experiment is a quick example of this principle using a naked bar of Ivory soap. The trick is to use Ivory, which contains an unusually high amount of air. Since air contains water moisture, Ivory also has water hidden inside the bar of soap. The microwave will excite the water molecules and your kids will never look at the soap the same way again.

Toss a naked bar of Ivory soap onto a glass or ceramic plate and stick it into the microwave on HIGH for 2-3 minutes. Watch intently and remove when it reaches a “maximum”. Be careful when you touch it after taking it out of the microwave oven – it may still hold steam inside. You can still use the soap after this experiment!

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