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Science Fair Research Made Easy

Mar 15, 2008
A thorough knowledge of your subject is the key to a successful project

A wealth of fascinating information on your topic area is as close as your local library. Use it!

Believe it or not, many beginning science fairers try to plan a project without really understanding the nature of their subject. As you might expect, the most complicated apparatus or impressive looking display does not mean much unless the builder can demonstrate a good measure of fundamental knowledge. The only way to acquire this necessary knowledge is through study and research in the subject area.

Hi-Fi fans successfully assemble complicated audio equipment from kits by following the simple directions. As the ads say, no technical knowledge is required.

Hot-rodders make original modifications on automobile engines and drive their cars very well without understanding the chemical reactions that take place when gasoline burns in air.

A lack of basic knowledge should not be your weak point, however. As you selected your topic and made plans, you undoubtedly found that an understanding of your subject was essential. Now, however, you find that additional outside research will be necessary before you can complete your project. You might need some help to solve a specific problem. Or, you want to study what has been done in your field in the past and keep up to date with current developments and techniques. You will certainly have to acquire a wide enough background to allow you to reach valid conclusions.

Try not to look at research as homework. Actually, it boils down to learning more about a subject that you find interesting.

High-school libraries also offer possibilities, although specialized publications may be limited.

The "How To" of Research

As with everything else, there is an easy way and a hard way to do outside research. The hard way consists of following all leads, going to all possible sources of information, and gathering a large mass of confused data. This sounds good at first, but the job of sorting the data and singling out the important pieces of information could take from now until the science fair.

The easy way is to organize your efforts. Basically, this means thinking about each of your reference sources Make sure you know how to use them all to your best advantage. All can be used for both comprehensive and specific study.

Before you begin, set up a note-taking system that will allow you to keep track of all information. Clarity, completeness, and ease of future reference are the requirements. Many science fairers like to jot down on small file cards all the data they collect. Later, they index the set of cards in a standard filing cabinet. You may also find it convenient to group research material together in Manila folders labeled according to topic.

Extensive study and planning are important in all research activities. In the Dow Chemical Company's Nuclear and Basic Research Laboratory, scientists pool their knowledge in an effort to collect all the available information.

Research is the same whether it is on the industrial or high-school level. Textbooks are good sources, but it is a good idea to be wary if you consult specialized or very old publications. Check all the information over carefully.

Whatever method you choose, be sure that you keep track of the sources of your information. You will need these references for footnotes for your report and to justify your information at the science fair. Most engineers and scientists keep a running file of magazine and newspaper clippings dealing with topics in which they are interested. These clippings do not necessarily concern present projects. Any subjects that may be important in future work are fair game. This is a good habit. File away material that catches your fancy. You may be able to use it next year.

Above all, have fun in your research!
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