sciencepalooza! 2017 - Getting Started
Choosing a Topic.
To spend the time necessary to conduct a good experiment, be sure the topic is one that really interests you. In addition to time, you'll need resources and access. For example, let's say you're really fond of sea otters, and you know they're a struggling population, those are great reasons to choose them for a project. Since the otters are an endangered species though, you're never going to be able to feed them vitamin C to see if they get well. However, read this article for some possible ideas for projects.
You could grow the algae at different temperatures or add farming fertilizers to see if these methods cause the algae to bloom.
If you think you have a question to investigate, try reading about it on Wikipedia. These articles are a great source of related vocabulary and bibliographic references that can help you get vital background information. For instance, let's say you're interested in fruit ripening. In reading about the subject, you'll learn about ethylene and discover that a project involving ethylene is high-school level, while putting a piece of fruit in the refrigerator is not. Once you have your key terms, you can Google "ethylene experiment" and read about others' experiments. This will help you get ideas about experiments that still need to be done. Many experiment descriptions include suggestions for future research which can be turned into your project.
Once you choose a topic, read as much as you can about it. Make notes in your lab book on the topic's vocabulary and problems other scientists have had. Ask yourself questions about how a topic might look if it was "tweaked" or affected by human-induced habitat changes. For example, how would this nutrient affect a plant that was exposed to more carbon dioxide? Or how would this worm do if exposed to increased temperature?
Background research is the most important part of your project. First, read some science articles—go to Science Daily, Science News, or even Science News for Kids. These will give you a sense of the components that go into real science experiments. Two things should happen after you've read about a few experiments. One, you should be able to easily pick out the investigator's purpose, variables, controls, procedure, and conclusion. Two, ideas for related experiments should begin to pop into your head. For example, it may occur to you that everyone seems to have antibacterial soap in their kitchens and bathrooms. You wonder what makes it antibacterial. Searching "antibacterial soap" in Google leads you to learn that the soap's active ingredient is triclosan.
You might wonder what happens to triclosan once it goes down the drain. Does it affect anything? Wikipedia mentions the possibility that it causes toxicity to algae and cardiac muscle. Through additional reading you discover brine shrimp are a standard for marine aquatic tests and, since our sinks "drain to the bay," you decide to test the effect of triclosan on brine shrimp.
When you begin to get these kinds of ideas, you're ready to choose a topic for your own experiment. All of this information should go into your notebook, even if you don't think it is relevant information—you never know where your experimenting is going to take you! In addition to providing hints on how to proceed, vocabulary you'll need to get to more scientific information, and examples of mistakes made in the past, the background information is the first part of your display board. Many judges read this section first to get an idea of why the student chose the project.
Here is a sample from a theoretical triclosan project:
Antibiotic soaps have appeared on sinks in kitchens, bathrooms, doctors' offices, and hospitals. Toothpaste, deodorants, and even plastic bags are now "antibacterial." In many cases the ingredient that kills the bacteria is triclosan.
When you wash your hands and watch the water flow down the sink you may not consider where the triclosan ends up. Like most everything we flush, the triclosan "drains to the bay." San Francisco Bay is one of California's most important habitats, serving as a nursery for crab, halibut, and salmon, and as a key link in the Pacific Flyway as birds migrate from Alaska to Patagonia. At least 231 species, some of which are endangered, use this largest "rest stop" on the west coast.
Triclosan has been found in 30-year-old sediment at the bottom of a lake, indicating that it is slow to break down.
You'll notice the background doesn't say specifically what the experiment will be or what your specific question is. The next section on your board, which may be called Purpose or Question, will put into specific terms what you hope to find out.
Since brine shrimp are an important link in marine food chains and triclosan ends up in the bay, this project will attempt to determine if brine shrimp are affected by triclosan.
All of this background research needs to be credited and shared. The bibliography can go at the bottom of the first display board panel or on the last. Some of it can even go in your notebook if you have a long list. It is important to include all sources of information. A website source needs to include the date it was viewed. Discussions, television shows, and phone calls are all potential sources of information that should be listed.
Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Triclosan, June 18, 2013
Thompson A, Griffin P, Stuetz R, Cartmell E (2005). "The fate and removal of triclosan during wastewater treatment". Water Environ. Res. 77 (1): 63-7.
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (18)
The Brine Shrimp Life Cycle
Tutorial: Brine Shrimp Hatchery - YouTube
The San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission
Saving the Bay, KQED, Aug 21, 2013