Science Fair Papersmr. Regan's Educational Website

Find science fair project ideas by grade level and topic below. Home Science Tools also offers a variety of complete science fair kits to maximize fun and education while minimizing stress. For detailed directions, you can check out our free Science Fair Guide. Read more about Legislative Learning and Advocacy Recap and Recording COVID-19 Information for Families In an effort to keep students, staff, parents, and the entire community aware of how COVID-19 is impacting our district, we plan to share as much information as possible, while protecting the privacy of those affected.

Discovery Education Discovery Education offers student resources that bring learning to life both inside and outside the classroom. Discovery Education contains interactive games, videos, contests, virtual labs and activities designed to help students dive deeper into a topic —and have fun too! EPA Science Fair Fun. Jonathan Vasquez, right, describes his science project on the human lung during the Children's Garden Montessori Academy Pre-K Science Fair on Saturday, Feb.

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Introduction

Reading scientific literature is a critical part of conceiving of and executing a successful advanced science project. The How to Read a Scientific Paper guide can help you get the most out of each paper you read—first, of course, you have to actually get your hands on the paper! That's where this guide comes in. Below you'll find tips and resources for both searching for and acquiring free copies of scientific papers to read.

Academic Search Engines: Resources for Finding Science Paper Citations

When you start your background research, one of the early steps is finding and reading the scientific literature related to your science project (see the Roadmap: How to Get Started On an Advanced Science Project article for more details on project steps). Mentors are a great resource for recommendations about which scientific papers are critical for you to read and you should definitely ask your mentor, or another expert in the field, for advice. But there'll also be times when your mentor is busy or isn't up-to-date on a particular experimental method, in which case, you'll need to be proactive and hunt for papers on your own. It turns out that just plugging search terms into a regular search engine, like Google, Yahoo, or MSN, isn't very effective. The pages you get back will be a wide mixture of websites, and very few will be links to peer-reviewed scientific papers. To find scientific literature, the best thing to use is an academic search engine.

Science Fair Papersmr. Regan's Educational Website Page

There are many different academic search engines. Some focus on a single discipline, while others have citations from multiple fields. There are a handful of free, publicly available academic search engines that can be accessed online; some of these are listed in Table 1, below. The remainder, like the ISI Web of Science, are subscription-based. Universities and colleges often subscribe to academic search engines. If you can't find what you need using a free search engine, you may be able to access these resources from computers in a university or college library. Consult the school's library webpage, or call the library directly, to find out to which academic search engines they subscribe to and whether or not you'd be allowed into the library to access them.

Table 1: This table provides a list of free, online academic search engines for various science disciplines.

Academic Search EngineURLDisciplinesHelp Files
Google Scholarscholar.google.comAllscholar.google.com/intl/en/scholar/help.html
ScienceDirecthttp://www.sciencedirect.com/science/searchAllNA
Pubmedwww.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmedLife sciences www.nlm.nih.gov/bsd/disted/pubmedtutorial
IEEE Xploreieeexplore.ieee.org/Xplore/guesthome.jspElectronics, Electrical engineering, Computer scienceNA
National Agricultural Library (AGRICOLA)agricola.nal.usda.govAgricultureagricola.nal.usda.gov/help/quicksearch.html
Education Resources Information Center (ERIC)eric.ed.govEducationNA

Here are a few tips to help you get started with the academic search engines:

  • Each search engine works slightly differently, so it's worth taking the time to read any available help pages to figure out the best way to use each one.
  • When you're beginning your literature search, try several different key words, both alone and in combination. Then, as you view the results, you can narrow your focus and figure out which key words best describe the kinds of papers in which you are interested.
  • As you read the literature, go back and try additional searches using the jargon and terms you learn while reading.

Note: The results of academic search engines come in the form of an abstract, which you can read to determine if the paper is relevant to your science project, as well as a full citation (author, journal title, volume, page numbers, year, etc.) so that you can find a physical copy of the paper. Search engines do not necessarily contain the full text of the paper for you to read. A few, like PubMed, do provide links to free online versions of the paper, when one is available. Read on for help finding the full paper.

How to Get a Copy of a Scientific Paper

Once you've found the citation for a paper that is relevant to your advanced science project, the next step is actually getting a copy so that you can read it. As mentioned above, some search engines provide links to free online versions of the paper, if one exists. If the search engine doesn't, or if you got the citation somewhere else, like the bibliography of another science paper you were reading, there are several ways to find copies.

Searching for Newer Papers (published during Internet era)

  • Check the library of a local college or university. Academic institutions, like colleges and universities, often subscribe to many scientific journals. Some of these libraries are free to the public. Contact the library, or look at their website, to see if you may use their resources and if they subscribe to the journals in which you're interested. Often, the library's catalog of holdings is online and publicly searchable.
    1. Note: If you do go to a university or college library to photocopy or print journal articles, make sure to bring plenty of change with you, because they won't have any!
  • Look for a free online version. Try searching for the full title of the paper in a regular search engine like Google, Yahoo, or MSN. The paper may come up multiple times, and one of those might be a free, downloadable copy. So, if the first link isn't downloadable, try another.
  • Go directly to the online homepage of the journal in which the paper was published. Some scientific journals are 'open-source,' meaning that their content is always free online to the public. Others are free online (often after registering with the website) if the paper was published more than a year ago. The Directory of Open Access Journals is also a good place to check to see which journals are free in your field of interest. The website lists journals by subject, as well as by title.
  • Search directly for the homepage of the first or last author of the paper and see if he or she has a PDF of the paper on his or her website. If so, you can download it directly from there. Generally it is only worth looking up the first author (the one who contributed the most to the paper) or the last author (usually the professor in whose lab the work was done and who supervised the science project).
  • Look for the paper (using the title or authors) in a science database, like those listed below, in Table 2. These databases contain free, full-text versions of scientific papers, as well as other relevant information, like publicly accessible data sets.

Table 2: List of databases containing free, full-text scientific papers and data sets.

Science Fair Papersmr. Regan's Educational Websites

Database URLDisciplines
NASA Scientific and Technical Information (STI)www.sti.nasa.gov/STI-public-homepage.htmlAerospace
SOA/NASA Astrophysics Data Systemadswww.harvard.edu/Astronomy, physics
arXivarxiv.org/Physics, Mathematics, Computer science, Quantitative biology, Quantitative finance and statistics
CiteSeerXciteseerx.ist.psu.edu/Computer science
Public Library of Science (PLOS)https://www.plos.org/Life sciences
High Wire Presshighwire.stanford.edu/lists/freeart.dtlLife sciences
Regan
  • Purchase a copy. Depending on the science magazine publisher, you may also come across offers for purchasing a copy of the paper. This is an expensive option, particularly if you have multiple papers you'd like to read; try some of the other searching methods first

Searching for Older Papers (published pre-Internet era)

Science Fair Papersmr. Regan

Even with all of the above searching methods, you may not be able to find a free copy of the paper online. This is particularly true for older science papers, which were published before online content became routine. In these cases, there are additional ways to get the paper at no or minimal cost.

  • Contact the author via email. As mentioned above, the first and last authors are your best bets. Briefly explain your situation and request a copy of the paper directly from him or her. If you do this, make sure to be polite and brief in your email.
  • Check the library of a local college or university. Academic institutions, like colleges and universities, often subscribe to many scientific journals. Some of these libraries are free to the public. Contact the library, or look at their website, to see if you may use their resources and if they subscribe to the journals in which you're interested. Often, the library's catalog of holdings is online and publicly searchable.
    1. Note: If you do go to a university or college library to photocopy or print journal articles, make sure to bring plenty of change with you, because they won't have any!
  • Contact your mentor and ask if he or she can help you acquire a copy of the paper. Use this as a last resort though, because you may find that your request falls pretty far down on a mentor's lengthy to-do list.

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With the jam-packed schedules of today's families, why would either a student or a parent want to add one more major activity? Clearly, any school project assigned to a student should meet a stringent test for usefulness. Surprising to some, a science fair project is one of the best learning experiences a student can undertake. And, if it is taken seriously, it can be an excellent way to earn significant prizes, qualify for scholarships, and distinguish a college application.

Conceptually, a science fair project is very straightforward. A student chooses a scientific question he or she would like to answer. Then, library and Internet research on the question give the student the background information he or she needs to formulate a hypothesis and design an experiment. After writing a report to summarize this research, the student performs the experiment, draws his or her conclusions, and presents the results to teachers and classmates using a display board. Most students do their projects for a school science fair, but in many cases, students can enter that same project in fairs at the city or county level. This is the first step in competitions that lead up to the international level, where prizes total over $3,000,000 and the top winners take home $50,000 scholarships.

What makes a science fair project such a great learning experience is that it involves so much more than science. If the student is in middle school, the research report will most likely be the longest paper the student has ever written. Indeed, California curriculum standards call for papers of only 1-2 pages in length through the 8th grade, and any decent research report will be at least that long. The bibliography for the report will also be the first ever for some students. And, while library research is still important, these reports are a great way to hone computer research skills, as well as to learn the ins and outs of common office programs, such as word processors and spreadsheets. Most projects also involve a good deal of math, and all students get an opportunity to enhance their presentation skills when they prepare their display boards and discuss their projects with the judges.

A science fair project will also have a longer duration than any other assignment a student has done. In contrast to the typical school homework due the next day or perhaps a week hence, a science fair project requires a student to learn to plan over two or three months, a skill of immense importance in adulthood. Procrastination is definitely not rewarded.

Science Fair Papersmr. Regan's Educational Website Site

Savvy students, especially those who work their way up to higher levels of competition, learn even more about communications skills. They learn the importance of selecting topics and fine-tuning their presentations in ways that will make them most likely to impress science fair judges. While some may bemoan this lack of purity in the pursuit of science, the fact is that even a professional scientist must compete for funds to continue his or her research. When better to learn how to persuade others than before your livelihood depends on it?

A science fair project even provides an opportunity for the discussion of ethical issues, such as plagiarism and falsification of data. Indeed, such a discussion is highly recommended. The ease of copying information from the Internet is hard to resist, and many students are far ahead of their teachers in understanding what is possible.

Of course, learning about science is at the heart of a science fair project. Our society relies more on science every day, and science fairs are a great way for students to become more knowledgeable about how the world around them works. Every citizen needs sufficient science literacy to make educated decisions about what he or she reads in the media, about health care, and about other every-day problems.

Preparing a science fair project is an excellent example of what education experts call active learning or inquiry (also 'hands-on' learning). It is a very effective instructional method; indeed, it is recommended as a cornerstone of successful science teaching. Yet, according to the National Research Council, active learning is not employed often enough in the classroom and its absence is seen as one of the key factors behind kids losing interest in science and not performing to their potential.

Colleges want to see what students have done with the opportunities they had available to them, and science competitions are a fantastic opportunity. Typically, 2–4 percent of science fair entrants at the high school level move on to the top level of science fair competition, the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF). While the competition is stiff, those odds are a lot better than the lottery. And clearly the state of New York is on to something. Students from Long Island came home from the 2003 International Science and Engineering Fair with prizes and scholarships totaling $114,500.

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