By Carol Grund
For many years, science fairs have been part of the school curriculum, especially in elementary schools. They offer a chance for students to learn about a particular topic in science or engineering that they are excited about, and to share it with other students and family members.
Science fairs began during the 1950's in response to several events that happened around the same time: atomic bomb tests, the launch of Sputnik and Jonas Salk's vaccine for polio.
The American education system decided to encourage an interest in science in students from an early age. Today as the world is shifting toward an information based economy, science fairs have become even more important and popular. The Intel Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) involves about six million students a year. Many schools that do not participate in national events offer local fairs to millions more students.
Why the continuing popularity? Science fairs give students a chance to learn first-hand about the principles and practice of the scientific method. This method involves making a hypothesis, or theory, then developing an experiment to test it.
After setting up the experiment, the scientist observes and/or measures the results, then writes a conclusion. The purpose is to discover whether the conclusion matches the original theory. The student then creates a display detailing both the experiment and the results. The science fair is a collection of these displays so that everyone's work is shared.
Sometimes the hardest part about participating in a fair isn't the experiment-it's coming up with the hypothesis and finding an experiment that's doable. The library offers many books that describe different experiments and how to perform them.
At cadl.org/catalog, type “science projects” in the search box. Examples include Sudipta Bardhan-Quallen's Last Minute Science Fair Projects: When Your Bunsen's Not Burning But the Clock's Really Ticking, or Salvatore Tocci's Scientific American: More Winning Science Fair Projects (separate volumes for grades 3-5 and 5-7).
Another resource is our “Research Tools” link on the homepage menu. After clicking there, choose “Science” from the list of topics. This page includes a link to the catalog but also to a number of special science databases that are free to CADL cardholders. It also has links to useful science websites.
For assistance with your science project or any other questions, contact the staff at your local CADL branch or the CADL Reference Department. We are located at 401 S. Capitol Avenue in Lansing and can be reached at 517.367.6346 or by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This column was originally printed in the October 10, 2010 - October 23, 2010 edition.