Serious Science: High School Projects that Make a Difference

For highly motivated high school students who are interested in the sciences, a science fair project can be more than a simple high school project – it can be the first step into a lifetime of research. By establishing a relationship with a mentor in the local scientific community, students can work on contributions to science far greater than the average homework assignment.

1) Finding your mentor.
If you’re fortunate enough to be within driving distance of a local college, that’s probably your best bet. Email the faculty in your field of interest, and you’ll probably find someone who’s happy to allow you to work with them in their field of interest, whether as an accessory to their research or on research of your own. However, if an alliance with a local scientist doesn’t seem to be in the winds for you, you can always do what I did – read up on current research in peer-reviewed publications (like the Journal of the American Chemical Society ) and find something that looks interesting. It’s easy to make contact with most researchers by email, and many would be happy to help you work on something small in scale which dovetails with their research interests.

In high school, I continued the research of a scientist at the University of Michigan and sent him back my data when I was done. While the majority of my work was figuring out *how* to do the experiment with my school’s lab equipment, it was amazing to know that the experiment itself was contributing to modern scientific understanding as well. (The judges liked my project, too – it won first place in its category in the regional science fair.)

2) Conducting your experiment.
If you have a local mentor, he or she may be able to provide you lab space, especially if your research is directly connected to theirs. However, if you’re working in your school’s lab facilities, you’ll likely have to adapt your experimental procedure for the limitations of your space. Often, your advisor will be able to help you with this. Examining lab procedure for simpler, related experiments can often give you ideas as well.

3) Scholarships. Even after your work is done, you’ll probably want to look into scholarships for research. Many scholarships exist for young people who have done outstanding research in their fields. Some colleges will offer scholarships in your field of interest, but external scholarships like the Intel Science Talent Search are also definitely worth checking out.

As you can tell, even after the science fair has ended, your research can help you in your career and education, whether it marks the beginning of further research or even funds it.

As you can tell, even after the science fair has ended, your research can help you in your career and education, whether it marks the beginning of further research or even funds it.

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