Science Research and the Process of Science
Research is a process by which people discover or create new knowledge about the world in which they live. The Intel ISEF and Affiliated Fairs are research (data) driven. Students design research projects that provide quantitative data through experimentation followed by analysis and application of that data. Projects that are demonstrations, ‘library’ research or informational projects, ‘explanation’ models or kit building are not appropriate for research based science fairs. Questioning is probably the most important part of a scientific investigation and is often followed by an “if…then” statement. Students are encouraged to design ‘controlled’ experiments, ones that allow them to set up a standard and then change only one variable at a time to see how that variable might affect the original condition tested as the standard. Thus, questioning usually leads to experiments or observations. Good scientists, both young and old, frequently use a process to study what they see in the world. This process has been referred as the ‘Scientific Method’ or more recently as the ‘Inquiry Cycle’. The following stages listed below will help you produce a good scientific experiment: 1) Be curious, choose a limited subject, ask a question; identify or originate/define a problem. It is important that this question be a ‘testable’ question – one in which data is taken and used to find the answer. A testable question can further be identified as one in which one or more variables can be identified and tested to see the impact of that variable on the original set of conditions. The question should not merely be an ‘information’ question where the answer is obtainable through literature research. 2) Review published materials related to your problem or question. This review should also include reviewing the International Rules and Guidelines (www.societyforscience. org/isef/rulesandguidelines). This is called background research. 3) Evaluate possible solutions and guess why you think it will happen (hypothesis). 4) Experimental design (procedure). In designing the experiment, it is critical that only one variable – a condition that may effect the results of the experiment – is changed at a time. This makes the experiment a ‘controlled’ experiment. 5) Challenge and test your hypothesis through your procedure of experimentation (data collection) and analysis of your data. Use graphs to help see patterns in the data. 6) Draw conclusions based on empirical evidence from the experiment. 7) Prepare your report and exhibit. 8) Review and discuss the findings with peer group/ professional scientists 9) New question(s) may arise from your discussions. This sets the stage for another research project as new questions are raised from others and the process repeats itself. The hypothesis often changes during the course of the experiment. Supporting or not supporting your hypothesis is secondary to what is learned and discovered during the research.
Non Inquiry Based Research
Not all areas of study are best served by scientific method based research. Because engineers, inventors, mathematicians, theoretical physicists, and computer programmers have different objectives than those of other scientists, they follow a different process in their work. The process that they use to answer a question or solve a problem is different depending on their area of study. Each one uses their own criteria to arrive at a solution.
“Scientists try to understand how nature works; engineers create things that never were.” An engineering project should state the engineering goals, the development process and the evaluation of improvements. Engineering projects may include the following: 1) Define a need or “How can I make this better?” 2) Develop or establish design criteria (could be more than one) 3) Do background research and search the literature to see what has already been done or what products already...
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