Science fair projects 13.01           Link to The Gateway to Educational Materials

Something new: STEAM activities for the Covid-19 lockdown!

Yes, the Playwiths have been converted into a book.

The Playwiths began in about 1995, and a couple of years back, I was urged to make a book of them.

I did, and my friends liked what they saw, but the publishers didn't. Frightening economic times, they said.

Well, I went ahead and did it in three forms:

  • a lo-res freeby PDF with very relaxed copyright;
  • a high-res low-price commercial PDF for the Kindle;
  • a paper and ink book from Amazon (tax laws won't let it into Australia);
  • did I say three? I lied. The paper version is half-tone, but soon there'll be a full colour version.
But don't worry, this web version stays here anyhow.

Full details of Playwiths, the book here

News: In June 2005, I am working on a series of books that I hope to have out, later this year, providing some support and advice for project people. And I have now started a page of references, URLs for web pages that will help you plan some of your projects.

I also write books from time to time, and my (published 2002) story of sugar as a commodity, Bittersweet, is now available from Amazon. My 2003 book Rockets, is also out on Amazon, and my new book for 2004, The Killer Bean of Calabar is now out in Australia. Arcade Publishing in the USA will be bringing out a US edition of Killer Bean, in May 2005. To find out more about my books, use this link and follow your nose. For the latest details on the US edition, see Poisons: From Hemlock to Botox to the Killer Bean of Calabar. Polish and Slovak translations came out in June 2005, as well.

A late postscript in May 2018, I have, in my advanced middle age, turned into a fairly prolific writer, and just between you and me and the gatepost, I have won quite a few awards. I haven't yet hung up my pen, and Australian Backyard Earth Scientist comes out in January 2019.
There are several sections to this revamped document. It begins with some information on how to plan a science fair project, some optional thoughts for advanced students about the seven types of science you may encounter when you are thinking about your project, a huge list of ideas for projects you can do, and a bit of help in approaching just a few of the ideas.

Background: this has existed for some time as a Web page, and you may even be reading it as a Web page still, because the HTML code that has been written as an e-book is also being used as an expanded replacement for the original Web page. There is also a .PDF file which has most of the topic ideas that are listed here, but it is not quite as complete as this version because it got too complex trying to manage parallel versions. The details of where to find these alternatives can be found at the end of this Web page or e-book, whichever you are looking at.

Use the PDF file as a classroom handout (it is 22 pages of fine print in two columns to save paper), or for preference, rely on the Web or e-book version you see here. Save the trees!

How to do a science project    The seven types of science    Topic ideas for projects
Help: Animal posters and displays Help: Research: history of science

How to do a science project

Planning your project
Your logbook
Choosing a topic
Literature searching for a topic
Asking for help in finding a topic
Coming up with a research question
Planning your timetable
Legal and other drawbacks
Making the final plans
Finding information
Doing an advanced search
Doing a project
The scientific method
Measuring things
Recording results
Analysing the results
Summarising results
Reaching conclusions
Presenting your project

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This is a second draft, and so it can be expected to still have a few rough edges. If you are using this, how about a bit of effort in return? All I ask is some indications of which parts are hard to follow, what is needed but missing, stuff like that . . .
DEFINITION: A science project is a piece of independent study which leads you to find out something new. The best projects find something that even scientists did not know before - and that is not as hard as it sounds, because there are lots of corners of science that need to be filled in.

For example, it is likely that the only way you can find out what spiders live in your garden is to go and study them, identifying the species as you go. All the same, that is not a very exciting piece of information to have, but what if you studied a number of yards, found the number of spiders (or the number of spider species) in each yard, and then tried to see what influences any variations.

The whole point of a project is that it should be about something that interests you, it should be driven by curiosity, and it should provide some kind of theory that other people could later go and test somewhere else. And for that to happen, you are going to have to follow some of the basic rules of the scientific method. That is what changes it from a project to a science project.

This material has been written to help you get started, but it is only a beginning.
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Planning your project

Real science involves researching to find out what is already known, finding out what techniques to go and where to look, getting the equipment that is needed, and so on. You will need to do the same, because every science project is real science.

Your logbook

The first step is to get an exercise book that you will use as your logbook (or log), in which you record all of the steps. It is the place where you will record everything that you do and read. You will record field measurements there, and you should present this as evidence of your work. That means all pages should be numbered, no pages are to be torn out, and no "liquid paper" or "white-out" is to be used - if you need to change something, cross it out neatly, and write in the changed value - but the crossed-out value should still be visible.

Your log is written as you go. There is no need to make rough notes on bits of paper, so you can copy them into the log when you get home. Real logbooks show where they have been written in during rain storms, they have mud stains (or bloodstains), and that is OK. Look after your log, but do not stress out if it suffers some indignity. And if, for some reason, you have to use loose paper, date it, and paste it into the book.

You should keep notes of any interviews or phone calls you make, phone numbers and email addresses, because you never know when you will need to email a contact again - and computer systems can always turn nasty on you. If they are important, you may wish to paste in printed copies of e-mails, but as a rule, this is not necessary. It is worth your while noting when you get an answer, though.

The log will not be a part of your final project presentation, but it should be a part of your submission, an appendix which proves that you actually did the work, and got the results you say you did. The things you write in there should all be dated, so that the record is completely clear, and neatness is not so important as clarity. So get your book, label it, put an address or a phone number on it (it is going to be VERY valuable if it is lost), and start with a list of possible topics, and then move on to a timetable.

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Choosing a topic

One way is to come up with your own original idea, another is to go to the list provided here, or some other list, and look through some of the sections. In all probability, you will find something there that triggers you to think of a topic of your own, based on an idea you see there. Begin with something you would be likely to stop and watch if you walked past it, something that you are interested in, or something you know a fair amount about.

Another way is to take something you have always wondered about, even something simple like the shape of a bubble, or why ducks (or steel boats) float, or why a balloon goes BANG! when a pin is stuck in it. The best projects are all curiosity-driven. As you read the news in a newspaper, or watch it on TV, think about some of the human problems you see, and wonder how they might be fixed. Spot a claim in a TV commercial, and wonder if it would really stand up under test.

Try putting different terms in these blanks:

What is the effect of __ a__ on __ b__?

Some of the a terms you could use might be temperature, noise, quenching, design, density, humidity, wind direction, overnight minimum temperature, music, pressure, detergent, water turbidity, acid, oxygen, hot hydrogen . . . Some of the b terms might seed germination, rusting, growth, rotting, grain size, ripening, wave frequency, bird species, flight duration, surface hardness, learning, driver fatigue . . .

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Literature searching for a topic

Then again, it might be something simple that you turn up about topic that you find interesting, just by digging around on the Internet. To search effectively, though, you will need to search in a clever way, as I will demonstrate with a personal example.

Right now, I am working on a book about sugar, and I keep running into some seriously weird and odd bits and pieces, simply because I am looking at a lot of books, and even more Web sites about sugar. There are more than 3 million Web sites that mention "sugar" in some way or another, but less than 1% of them have both the word sugar and the word cane, and about 4% mention sugar and beet. For example, I found a site that gave me recipes for fried cat, yellow jacket soup, rat roulade and frozen ramen on a stick, and just a few references to sugar. So I had to adjust the search, and you would have to do the same.

By tweaking the search a bit and looking again, you may come across the fact that sucrose in cut sugar cane is converted to fructose and glucose, so cane has to be crushed and heated within 16 hours of cutting. This immediately raises some questions: is this a problem with beet sugar? How does the cane 'know' how long it is since it was cut? The fact that heating stops the conversion tells us an enzyme is probably involved - why does sugar cane need it, and what makes it start acting?

Of course, many of the questions you wonder about will be too hard for a school level project, but if you know you are going to have to do several projects over several years, you might start with an easy sugar project, and then go to more advanced stuff in later years. I don't know if other plants have enzymes that do the same thing, but I know there is a test that will tell me if the sucrose has been breaking down.

Once you have found a topic, you will need to come back to a further literature search, but now you will be looking for information on a particular topic, rather than an idea for a topic, so you can make your search much tighter. It is a good idea to do an Advanced search with one of the better search engines like Altavista or Google.

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Asking for help in finding a topic

If you are going to get adults to help you, you will need first to understand how adults think. The examples that I quote in this section are all real requests and demands that I have received. Adults are busy people, and the adults best able to help you are usually the busiest ones. They are certainly not lazy, and will not be impressed if you expect them to help when you give every sign of being totally lazy yourself.

Asking for help on a project is like going for a job: you have to make a good impression. Do it right, just once, and it keeps on paying off. As a science writer, I need to write to busy people all over the world and persuade them to fill me in on their research, and where it might go. Even i have to go by the rules.

For starters, most adults will not be impressed if you email them or ring them up and say something like "I have to find out what goes mouldy faster: white bread or brown bread. What is the answer?" Note the problems with this real example: no please, no courtesy, and absolutely no sign of any effort by the student. That sort of request is usually ignored, and so are e-mails saying "send me everything you have on mammals!".

If you write and say after a few courtesies "I need to compare the rates at which white and brown bread go mouldy: how many times do you think I should run the experiment?", or "Can you tell me the best way of setting up a controlled humidity chamber?", that shows that you are not asking to have all the work done. All the same, expect to get an answer in the form of another question, or a hint, rather than the whole answer, because that is the way scientists are.

In the same way, if you write to somebody saying "I have to do a project, what do you suggest?", that leaves the person written to with no idea of level, age, type of project, or what resources the student has available. It also indicates that you have not read anything, and have not done any searches for yourself.

The sort of question that gets attention says: "I am looking at the effects of diet on flatworm regeneration, but I am worried that there may be variations in the temperature", or "I am trying to see what foods flatworms prefer. I am planning to use cheese and small pieces of liver: do you have any other suggestions?".

To get attention straight away, you need to list the ideas you have already had, because this saves your tame "expert" from wasting time telling you what you know already. You are the one who will benefit from this, so you are the one who must put in the hard yards.

Your project should include printed copies of all emails and letters, so remember that you are also writing for a public audience.

Stranger danger:
Please, as a matter of principle, it is courteous to tell people your age, school year or grade, but you must never provide personal information without your parents being involved, and even then, you need to avoid it. It will hardly ever be a problem, but sadly, you just have to be that extra bit careful, because there are a few loonies out there. Even if you are a great big bruising 17-year-old footballer, there is a standard to be set, and you need to set it for other younger people, so NO DETAILS! If somebody needs to mail you stuff, get them to send it care of your science teacher at school, or your parents at work.

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Coming up with a research question

What this means is coming up with a single sentence that explains what you are trying to find out, something like "I want to know what makes tadpoles change to frogs: is it temperature, food, diet, or something else?". Or you might be asking "What are the things that make a paper plane stay in the air for the longest time?" or "How do the sand grains on a beach vary from one part to another part of the beach?" As you set your question out like this, you will find that you are also developing some ideas about what you will need to do.

To take the sand grain example, you are going to need to take a number of samples from the same beach at different times of the year - and by the way, that particular study will probably be varied by the effects of wind blowing finer grains up to the back of the beach. Maybe the answer is to take all samples from two metres below the high tide mark, and from a depth of 20 cm below the surface, or you might sample different depths from one hole, or different points down the beach.

This means that even as you are thinking up a research question, you are actually doing a lot more as well.

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Planning your timetable

Your first timetable will nearly always fail, but you have to start somewhere. You need to draw up a rough one-page timetable in your log, from START, to working out the topic, gathering the data, processing the data, writing up the results, and handing in the final product. For each section, work out about how long you will need for each section (and add a week or two for unexpecteds), and use this to draw up a deadline that says "must start this section before (date)". Then having done that, try to start as quickly as possible, so the arm you break when you fall out of a tree is not a total disaster, after all.

The big problem will come when you are doing a longitudinal study, one that runs over a long time. This can make for a complicated timetable, and may mean you need to analyse data in small slabs, and write up bits, all the way through. Word processors are marvellous for this!

But you MUST have a workable timetable, and you MUST stick to it.

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Legal and other drawbacks

Some sorts of experiment can get you into difficulties, or maybe even into court, so it is as well to consider the following points.

Behavioural studies of animals generally need a sample population of 30 individuals or more to be valid. As a general rule, seek advice from medical doctors or veterinarians, teachers, or parents, depending on what you are doing. If other students are to be used as test subjects you need to cover yourself by seeking expert advice. If there is any doubt at all, write a letter to the subjects' parents, explaining what you are doing and why, and get signed parent permission slips. Then, when you hand in your project, you can demonstrate that you have behaved in an ethical and proper way.

Chemistry projects will usually mean that you need to seek safety advice beforehand - and you will probably need to arrange laboratory and glassware access. Adult supervision is a very good idea!

Earth science studies: most science projects take place in the middle of the year, which means during the winter months, you should consider how cold weather will affect any field work you may need to do.

Ecology studies are interesting and easy to find, but doing the measuring of variables is more challenging. Many of these projects require field work and some may take months to complete, so think about the weather you may need to deal with (making notes in rain on a wind-swept beach in winter is no fun!). The other problems you may face: disease from contaminated water, permissions to gain access to sites of special interest, permission to take specimens.

Electrical experiments which use mains power are NOT a good idea, and if you are working with transformers, get some reliable supervision, just to make sure that there is anything wrong with your setup.

Microbiology projects can be a real problem, especially if you are working with pathogens (which generally isn't allowed!), but even if you aren't, they may grow on your culture medium. Be conservative, and get lots of expert advice.

Plant growth projects need to be done during the growing season outside or require greenhouse conditions during the winter. Plan ahead, because plants need to grow for about 1-2 months to get measurable results. You must grow many plants in test or control groups for the results to be valid. A minimum of 30 plants in each test group should be used, with as many in the control group.

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Making the final plans

No plan is ever really final, so it is likely that your logbook will have repeated attempts at getting a timetable right. When you change the timetable, write it out again, rule a single line through the previous one, and make a note of the page on which the latest version is to be found.

You will also change your plans when you notice something new and exciting as you are going along, and you may suddenly discover that you have something more interesting to study. Before you make any changes, work out a timetable, and if you have time, change - there is nothing wrong with you changing your topic, but make sure it is justified.

Finding information

This is to be covered later, in a separate e-book on measuring methods.

Doing an advanced search

This is to be covered in a later version of this e-book.

Doing a project

A very large piece of a successful project goes in planning everything first: finding out the right questions to ask, finding out what equipment to use to answer those questions, finding the best places to use the equipment, mastering the equipment, and so on.

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The scientific method

Read this now, because if you don't understand the ideas involved, you may go off in a wrong direction. This part is essential, but the later section on the seven types of science can be skipped over unless you are planning to be an A-grade student. If you are that ambitious, it might be a good idea to read that as well.

The first thing to be said is that there is no single scientific method, because the way you work will depend on which of the seven types of science you are doing (and most scientific work involves more than one kind of science). Don't worry, though, because they all have certain things in common.

his is a quick, light run over the main points, and anything you read here should apply in just about every case. The simple fact is that the scientific method is a way of setting out to answer interesting and worthwhile questions, and it usually begins with an observation. You may notice something unusual or unexpected, or you may see something operating and wonder how it works, or if it can be made to work better. In other words, your observation leads to a question.

Once you have an interesting question, you can ask other people what they know about the topic, gather some information, and maybe make an intelligent guess about what is going on. Often there may be several things happening at the same time, several variables that may be having an influence, so that your problem becomes one of trying to work out what part each variable plays. This is a key to the scientific method: pinning down the variables one by one, studying them one at a time, and making a logical conclusion, followed by some sensible tests.

What you test, is called a hypothesis (or 'an hypothesis' if you are being really classy). This is a question which has been reworded into a form that can be tested experimentally, taking the form of a prediction of what should happen if you have managed to work out the effect of the variable you are studying.

Next, you need to work out how you would test the hypothesis, what single thing you would change that should bring about a measurable change. You need to write this down, step by step, and you need to think carefully about the control group you will use for comparison. For example, suppose I have a hypothesis that over 20 years, listening to rock music will make people aged 35 go bald. If I watch any sample, with or without rock music, some of them will go bald in that time, and if we have a suitable control group, we will realise that the rock music was not a cause, after all.

The next step is to do the test, a number of times, if that is necessary. And most importantly, this means measuring, because a lot of effects are what we might call dose-dependent, where a bigger 'dose' causes a bigger change, and other effects may have a threshold, and if the 'dose' is less than the threshold value, there may be no effect at all. Poke a sleeping lion very gently, and nothing will happen, but if you poke it hard enough to wake it up (the threshold value) it will probably bite you, and from that point up, the lion's retaliation will probably be dependent on the does of annoyance you gave it. get the idea?

Then you need to analyse the results, which often means using statistical analysis, which we will deal with separately. And after that, you need to come to a conclusion. And that, in simple terms, is what the scientific method is about.

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Measuring things

This is to be covered in another e-book in this series. You need to think about it, though. And you may need to seek advice from somebody who is a professional in that area.

Recording results

This is to be covered in another e-book in this series. You need to think about it though. Think tables, think spreadsheets.

Analysing the results

This is to be covered in another e-book in this series. You need to think about it, though. Think about the right statistics to use (or ask), think spreadsheets, think graphs (or charts).

Summarising results

This is to be covered in another e-book in this series. You need to think about it, though. Statistics, graphs and charts, right? But which ones are right for you? Answers will come if you ask yourself what you are trying to say.

Reaching conclusions

This is to be covered in another e-book in this series. You need to think about it, though. Ask yourself what a reasonable person would agree were the answers that your research has uncovered, and don't forget negative results.

Presenting your project

Over the years, a fairly standard format has been developed for projects. There is no need to follow this exactly, but as a general rule, you will find that judges expect each of these sections:

Table of contents
Experimental design
Materials used
Research report

That said, check the specifications for the contest you are entering, to see what you are expected to do, because some of the requirements may be different - or the names given to the sections.

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This is the last section that you will write. In 250 words or less, write a brief description of what you set out to do, and what you learned. You need to detail the purpose, the procedures and measurements, the results, and your conclusions. The aim is to give the reader a quick understanding of your work. In a scientific paper, the abstract tells readers whether there is anything here that they need to know about.

Table of contents

This is only needed if you have put your work together in the form of a folder. If it is a poster display, this is not necessary. List the main sections, and their page numbers, but if you have done your work on a word processor, you may find that a table of contents can be generated automatically - provided you formatted the headings correctly as Headings: talk to a power user to get advice on this.


This sets out the problem you were trying to solve, even though this is probably obvious from your title, but it should also say why you thought this was a problem worth solving, and the benefits that might be obtained from solving the problem. It may include some brief information about what others had found before.


This helps you focus on the science behind what you are doing. Even if you are only surveying the birds in your school grounds, there is still a hypothesis of some sort. A better survey would be one that looks at the number of birds (or species) on school days and non-school days, or at different times of the day: in that case, your hypothesis is that there will be some detectable pattern in the way birds appear in the study area..

In simple terms, your hypothesis is some underlying suspicion that you have about the way things are. It can come from your first observations, from reading, or in some other way, but there must be a good reason why you suspect that the hypothesis could be true.

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Experimental design

This should have been worked out beforehand, and should appear in the logbook. It often happens that as you proceed, you find that you need to change the procedures or to add new ones. That is not a problem, but record what you decided to change, and why, in your logbook.

The variables you have been working with will probably be in your title. These are the controlled (or manipulated) variables, and the dependent (or responding) variables. There will also be a number of other variables that are held constant, and you need to specify these as well.

In your design, you should specify exactly how you are going to change the manipulated variable, and what changes you will be measuring in the dependent variable. You will also need to specify sample numbers, and details of your control group(s) where these exist, and how many variations on the manipulated variable will be applied to different experimental groups, if you are using more than one.

Your experimental design should also outline any replications that you will be using, so as to make sure that you have not got your result by chance. As well, you need to list what you will measure, including the units you will use. While NASA may continue to use 'British' units (which the British are learning not to use), nobody else does so: there is no excuse for using anything other than metric (SI units).

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Materials used

This should have been worked out and written down in your log before you started, but there may be changes as time goes on. Note these in the log, and date them, but put a note on the main materials page, giving the other page(s) where the changes are listed. This will help you later on, when you are writing up.


One of the traditions of science for more than four centuries has been that a report should give all of the details that would be required for somebody else to repeat the same experiment, and get the same result. That means there can be no secret herbs and spices, no special recipes. Everything must be described in detail.

Research report

This section shows the background information you gathered from library research, the Web, or from email sources. Make it clear that these are not your results, but the background that you established before you started.

When you have finished putting this together, you may find it helpful to add introductory and summary paragraphs. The introduction should indicate the structure of the section, and the final summary paragraph should emphasize the main points. Most judges will expect you to use formal language for a report like this. While you may think it is important to communicate to real people, not judges, if you have done a piece of sweet science, it is a pity to miss out on recognition because of the way you packaged the information.

Formal language means no personal pronouns, because the judges usually think it is wrong. There was a time when scientists would write "I put the crystals in a test tube and dissolved them in water", but these days, they write "the crystals were placed in aqueous solution in a 150 mm x 25 mm Pyrex test tube", and that is the style you will have to follow, which is a pity.

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This may be almost anything: tables of data, graphs, photographs, live specimens (or a collection of dead specimens), depending on what you have done. As well, you will need to explain the results, and this usually means using formal language.

Remember that if you are presenting graphs, the actual data tables should also be available for viewing. If you have entered data tables into a spreadsheet package, you need to print out the spreadsheet.

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This is where you tell people (including the judges) how your hypothesis stood up when you tested it. Remember that there is no such thing as a failed experiment, or an experiment that did not work. If an experiment "fails to work", that means you have added to your knowledge by showing that something does not happen in a certain way.

On the other hand, if your hypothesis was proved wrong, it may be useful to discuss why that may be. Every piece of science is part of an on-going tradition, and your comments may help the next person to answer the puzzle you set out to solve.

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If people helped you, say so. List them by name, and state briefly what they did to help. It is normal to list them by alphabetical order of surname. For email contacts, list the email addresses as well. As a rule, keep this section brief.


This is an alphabetical list of sources of information used to form a hypothesis, design your experiment, and compose your research report. List all the details that would be needed to help somebody else find that same piece of information. You will usually find that there are rules describing how the entries are to be written.

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The seven types of science

Type 1 science: orthodox science
Type 2 science: interpretations placed on observations
Type 3 science: fraudulent science
Type 4 science: fiddling science
Type 5 science: speculation
Type 6 science: Polemic
Type 7 science: Pseudo-science

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This was written some years ago as an analysis of some of the different ways people use the word "science". The main aim was to explore the reason why scientists can never agree on what "the scientific method" is, because they are doing different sorts of science. It finished with an analysis of why "creation science" is not science at all, an analysis which I have deleted here because it is irrelevant to the completion of science projects. Find it on the Web, if you really must know how it ended originally.

Some years ago I taught about human evolution at the Australian Museum. My job was to take visiting groups of students over the evidence and show them how the clues were to be seen in all sorts of hominid bits and pieces. I even became quite good at walking like a chimpanzee.

One day I started thinking about the line attributed to Lord Rutherford, that there are two kinds of science, "Physics" and "stamp collecting". I started to list the various things that scientists do in the name of science and concluded that on most days, most scientists use three or four different modes of science.

Before I explain, consider a practical example of natural experimentation, based on that best of all Australian team sports, hockey, which we play on a green surface with a white ball, and 11 players a side.

Novice players quickly learn that a hockey ball is more likely to rise off the ground when you hit it with your front foot well behind the ball. This is called undercutting, and it can be fun when you do it but a lot less fun when somebody does it to you. If you were learning the game you might decide to explore this effect (in other words - experiment).

You would vary the distance from your foot to the ball, how hard you hit it, the position of your hands on the stick. You'd try changing the angle of the stick. Eventually you would find a method which makes the ball lift every time. (You'd probably be sent off the field soon after discovering this, but the way of the empirical scientist was never easy).

This is the popular view of science. Scientists experiment. They "prove" things, and once that's done it's a fact. And if scientists disagree, then whatever the proposition, it's not yet a "fact". This popular view of science is very mistaken. While it is true that the experimental aspects of science are very important, experiments are only one part of the greater science endeavour. In my view, science involves at least seven different "types" of activity. Each type of science can be seen as a tool which has something to offer, and each type has its limits.

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Type 1 science: orthodox science or sensu stricto science

Some people regard this as the only form of science. Every observation is predictable and repeatable. All the variables can be completely controlled. Everything is straight-forward. We can look at the facts and say that changing this factor will have that effect - every time.

Type 1 science is about straight descriptions of unbiased experimental results, with all the observations reported objectively and dispassionately in the literature, or so we are told. This simple view ignores the subjective choices scientists make when they choose what to investigate, and what phenomena they will explore and measure.

In considering the novice hockey player undercutting the ball, I made no mention of hitting the hockey ball left-handed. Hockey players never use the curved side of the stick and even the left-handers have to play right-handed, so a whole set of investigations has been ignored simply because "we don't do things that way".

Type 1 scientists are unlikely to investigate the influences of the paranormal on a chemical reaction. Most people would applaud this decision to ignore superstition and discount the existence of evil spirits and invisible things which make us ill. It seems rational and wholly sensible. Yet it turns out that there are "invisible" things which make us ill - bacteria and viruses come to mind, so perhaps it is not such a good idea to ignore the possibility of a trillion and one demons, all contending to influence our experimental results one way or another. Scientists will ignore the paranormal until they find some variability which cannot be explained any other way. Then they study the effect, find its cause, and always seem to show that it is really normal after all. Still, to the extent that we leave out demons, evil spirits, ESP and the efficacy of prayer from our investigations, Type 1 science is just that little bit subjective.

Most importantly, hard or Type 1 science is governed by rigid rules. We have our framework for thinking about things and we view everything in that framework. It gives us all sorts of propositions we can then test using the principle of falsifiability. On its own hard science is not very creative. It can even be fairly restrictive, but it is very, very powerful because we are encouraged to try to falsify everything.

It works like this: we can disprove any law just by finding a single exception, but no matter how many supporting instances we find, we can never prove the law is true: the next trial might produce just that single exception we have been looking for!

Suppose I claim I can stop snakes from crossing my track in the bush by tapping out coded messages with my toes as I walk along - codes which the snakes interpret as a warning. For twenty kilometres we walk and we see no snakes. Jubilantly I claim success. You, being sensible, say this is a load of twaddle. It proves nothing: sooner or later a snake will appear and where will my precious theory be then, eh? If my theory is wrong, how come we have seen no snakes? I ask.

That is the problem with falsifiability. We can never be sure the vital piece of disproving evidence is not just around the corner. And scientific theories hardly ever involve silly claims about coded signals tapped out to the snakes, so common sense cannot be used to get to the heart of the matter, to expose the fallacy, half as easily.

This leads to a problem. If nothing can be proved, then you cannot do anything, and that would mean absolutely no progress at all. So for practical purposes most scientists accept many things as "proven" or "true", based on their practical expectations. They call their handy assumptions "laws", "rules", "principles", "theories", "hypotheses", "conjectures", and so on.

Now back to falsifiability. If a scientific idea is to be of any use at all, it must give us testable assertions. It must say something like "people of Cornish descent will be more able to wiggle their ears than a random sample of humans", or "from this, we deduce that all cultures will have a creation myth which begins in water and darkness". Any idea which does not give rise to testable assertions and hypotheses is useless and unscientific. It can safely be labelled non-science and discarded.

Type 1 science gives us many testable assertions and hypotheses, once we have a theory to work with. It is just a pity that it is not more use when we are trying to develop new theories. That may be why we use the other types of science as well.

Some pieces of Type 1 science are "softer" than others. When two clever scientists wanted to know whether a fossil known as the "Taung baby" or the "Taung child" was ape or human, they gave it a CAT scan. Fossils are not bone, but rock. Yet deep within the stone that once was bone, the finest traces of structure remain. When the Taung child died, "adult" teeth were still erupting within the skull, and a cut through the skull would have shown us once and for all whether the eruption pattern was that of an ape or a human. But you cannot destroy a "one-off" specimen, so a CAT scan was the next best thing.

This non-destructive test revealed the unerupted teeth, and told us that the Taung baby was neither one thing nor the other. It was betwixt and between, a "missing link", if you like to use that term. Discovering that was hard science, fully replicable by doing the another scan later, or even by a physical slicing of the specimen. The facts were pretty much open to just one interpretation, at least for now.

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Type 2 science: interpretations placed on observations

Where there are two competing theories, as there are about the origins of Homo sapiens, we often find competing and conflicting interpretations offered by competing schools of thought. Look at the "mitochondrial Eve" kerfuffle, where there appears (or appeared, depending on your point of view) to be evidence that all modern humans originated in Africa a few hundred thousand years ago.

Or to be very cautious, maybe we did not all originate there, but at least we can all trace our ancestry back to one female, who probably was born in Africa. This is an issue I will return to later, when I deal with speculation as a type of scientific activity.

A great deal of evolutionary biology looks back at what has occurred, and says things like "humans happened like this because . . .". We cannot run the experiment again. It takes too long and we do not have control over most of the variables anyhow. History and many social sciences come close to Type 2 science and that may be why the Type 1 scientists do not really like Type 2 science.

When a historian says "The Great War happened because . . .", this is the most reliable interpretation we can offer based on the evidence. If the evidence changes, our view will need to change as well. As with the evolution of humans, we can see the effects, but we do not know all of the causes. If we ran the experiment again, we might not get the "right result" this time. Type 2 science might not be repeatable.

We may be describing, after the event, a unique sequence. If we "ran the tape again", to use Stephen Jay Gould's expression from A Wonderful Life, we might get an entirely different result next time. So while we describe Type 2 events in scientific language, our results are less certainly replicable, at best. In some cases, there is absolutely no prospect of replication at all.

The textbooks used in our schools ignore this form of science, preferring to emphasis the nicely replicable nature of physical science. Interestingly, most of the "experiments" in school science books are precisely the replicable Type 1 exercises which fit the descriptions given at the start of chapter 1 in each of those books. Do the educators feel that Type 2 work is too challenging for school children, or is this a self-fulfilling prophecy? Or is it simply that every textbook carries a large legacy of comfortably familiar material which sometimes sails close to plagiarism?

Soft science is still governed by scientific rules. We have a theoretical framework in which we explore causes and effects, and we apply Ockham's Razor, choosing the simplest available explanation. We may have a certain amount of trouble in coming up with testable, falsifiable propositions, but we can do it. On its own, soft science would not be very creative, but it has more creative potential than hard science. It leads us to begin asking "what if" questions, to ponder about causes, rather than demonstrating them.

One of the most beautiful events in science must have been that moment when Raymond Dart picked the brain cast of the Taung baby out of a box of rocks. A small ape-person's skull, resting on its side, had been partly filled with mud which later solidified to give us an impression of the inside of the skull. One glance at this was all Dart needed to realise that this was the brain of an ape-like animal which walked upright just like us, and not at all like a chimpanzee. That piece of dumb rock spoke to Dart, allowing him to place an interpretation on it, making it Type 2 science, while giving his conclusion all the certainty of the very best Type 1 science.

You can really only appreciate Dart's cleverness if you have seen the original or an exact copy of it, because only then can you realise the importance of what Louis Pasteur called "the prepared mind". I have looked at first-rate Taung casts knowing what I ought to see, and it is still hard to spot. This may be one of the reasons why Dart had trouble getting people to agree with him. But there were other darker reasons why this upstart colonial, this double colonial, an Australian in South Africa, would be ignored by the British Establishment. I will return to that in a moment.

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Type 3 science: fraud

In a sense fraud is not science at all. Fraud happens when a scientist takes a short-cut and concocts a few results that he (in just about all the known cases it has been a "he"), makes up a few results would have been found, if only things had gone right, if only the techniques were good enough, if only the material had been a little better than it was.

Because the intention is to defraud and convince, the fraudulent scientist must produce results which are absolutely consistent with all of the other known scientific principles, rules and discoveries. Most frauds are done for "good scientific reasons", because the fraud feels that the principle he is trying to demonstrate is more important than a mere "scientific method".

Because it pretends to give us real data, fraudulent science is often testable. By definition, fraud is extremely creative, and it is often right, (in which case it is unlikely to ever be found out), but a few frauds are wrong and these can be extremely destructive.

The "Piltdown skull" was concocted from a piece of a human skull and an orang outang's jaw. These had the tell-tale bits that would have identified their true origins broken off. The bones were chemically stained before they were planted at Piltdown. The teeth were filed flat to hide the tell-tale patterns of cusps that would have betrayed their origins. Scientific investigation eventually exposed the fraud, but the fraud sent scientists off on the wrong line of thinking for forty years. That was a wicked fraud, because the false Piltdown picture of a large brain in an ape-like body was used to deny the real truth, revealed by Dart's "Taung baby".

It was also an impressive fraud. I had the chance to examine the original material in 1993, and prepared by foreknowledge of the clumsy tooth-filing, which I had also seen in casts, I could see that the pattern was entirely wrong, but I am willing to say that I, too, would have been fooled by it, because scientists trust each other, at least until something fails to add up.

Scientific fraud involves making up the evidence to support your pet theory, but if your theory is wrong people will eventually notice that your data are impossible and you will be exposed. But if the theory turns out to be right, nobody will ever know what you did, not unless you were careless, that is . . .

Cyril Burt manufactured IQ data and correlations. In the end, somebody noticed that Burt's correlation coefficients never wavered from their original three-decimal-place value, even when more data were added. Everybody expects that calculated correlations should show some random variation so people looked more closely at his data, and the whole of Burt's work on IQ and inheritance was discredited.

Mendel massaged his results, Dulong and Petit concocted their results when they generated their law relating specific heat to atomic weight. Given the fraudulent data that I can demonstrate in their results, they probably faked more than half of the measurements, and fudged the rest like a second-rate physics student. But who cares? Their spurious law was more or less correct, and it allowed chemists to determine atomic weights accurately by electrolysis, ducking around problems caused by valency.

Ptolemy fudges his data and so did Isaac Newton and probably many others who proved accurate in their guesstimation of where the truth lies. We can only detect their naughtiness by careful statistical analysis. They guessed the end result more or less correctly and they did not hold up the progress of science, unlike the Piltdown fraud, whoever he was, and Cyril Burt.

People can engage in scientific fraud with the highest of motives, hoping to save lives or time by sounding an alarm that a drug is safe - or harmful. True believers can mistakenly attempt to pass off a mathematical fraud and still be entirely innocent. To that extent, they fall into Type 3. On the other hand, the technological frauds, the purveyors of snake oil and perpetual motion are a different breed. I will deal with them when I get to pseudo-science.

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Type 4 science: fiddling science

Although they may not admit it many scientists spend most of their lives engaged in fancy sorts of fiddling. They twiddle the knobs a bit, they explore the situation in various ways, sometimes systematically and sometimes almost at random. Fiddling still involves sticking to the rules of science, applying the rules in slightly quirky ways perhaps, but still within the framework. Because fiddling is a bit random, it occasionally provokes an amazing discovery but most of the time it just brings disappointment. Fiddling is all about testing half-formed ideas and hypotheses. If we "get a result", then we automatically have a fully-formed testable hypothesis and can proceed to some other scientific type.

Most technology began as Type 4 science, as trial and error variation to find the best temperature to heat the steel of a samurai sword, to find the best way of putting an edge on a stone spear-tip, trying out new fuel additives or investigating a new cake recipe. The alchemists believed the Philosopher's Stone would transmute metals. In modern terms they thought if they added the right stuff to lead, the lead would turn into gold. To us, this seems like nonsense, but given their understanding of chemistry, the alchemists' ideas really made quite a lot of sense.

They were empirical scientists, people who explored whatever worked and twiddled with it. They knew that the base metal copper could be changed by adding black or brown cassiterite, or tinstone, to the mix. Today we would say they made bronze - an alloy of tin and copper - but they thought the metal had changed. They said the black or brown stone had "transmuted" the metal.

In the same way a white "stone", the mineral smithsonite, could be added to copper with charcoal in a sealed crucible to make brass. Both bronze and brass look more like gold than the original copper so it is no wonder they believed it was just a matter of finding the right "stone", in order to make gold from base metals. Today we realise the theory they adopted is all wrong, but it must all have seemed like a good idea at the time. The trouble was they could not control the effects. They could not predict what would happen in a given case. There was no real science to it all. Yet today, no real science happens without a lot of fiddling.

One common type of "fiddling" is statistical analysis of the sort which reveals the sins of Dulong and Petit, and the peccadilloes of Mendel. Traditionally, this sort of analysis is sneered at by those who will not collect stamps. "If your experiment needs statistics, you ought to have done a better experiment" Lord Rutherford is supposed to have said. Yet statistical analysis can reveal the underlying truths in complex situations - the sort of messes that true physicists shy away from. (In fairness to Rutherford - he did take classes in statistics in his later years.)

Fiddling is almost acceptable to the textbook writers. They call it something fancy like "pattern detection", and they look around for nice examples like Balmer's analysis of the "hydrogen lines" or Maria Goeppert Mayer's "magic numbers", which led to the shell model of the atomic nucleus.

Usually though, the textbook authors will avoid any discussion of "Bode's Law", which was neither by Bode, nor a law, but a fascinating mathematical model which predicts the locations of the inner planets of the solar system. (In fact, it was suggested to Bode by J. D. Titus, and so is sometimes called the 'Bode-Titus Law'.)

Like Balmer and Mayer, Bode used data-snooping to find a pattern, and having found a pattern, believed in it. Balmer used his formula to predict an extra line which turned out to be there, while the Bode pattern predicted a planet where Uranus was found, and another planet where the asteroid belt was found, (which is why even today, people speculate that there may be some deeper meaning behind the pattern which gave us "Bode's Law"). We don't know what the true cause of the pattern is but sensible scientists keep an open mind about such things.

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Type 5 science: speculation

All good scientists speculate at times, and progress would be impossible if they did not do so. Scientific speculation involves saying things like "What would happen if you assumed that Euclid's Fifth postulate was wrong?" or "Would the two weights really fall at different speeds?" and "If they do fall at different speeds, what would that tell us?". Here, scientists begin with an accepted and established "fact", and question its validity. They ask whether this fact is really all that factual. Then, still working within the rules of science, they test it, under different conditions.

Speculation is creative science, identifying, designing and planning what is to be observed and described, and then looking around for the unexpected as well. Speculation is usually left out of courses on the scientific method. This is a shame for at different times we need science from at least Types 1, 2, 4 and 5 for fertile science. Speculation is far and away the most creative form of science, and the most enjoyable. Speculation generates hypotheses, and it would be pointless if these hypotheses were not tested. Speculation often fails to produce results, but the occasional successes more than make up for the failures. And to a good scientist, even the failures can be extremely informative.

Speculation is probably at the cutting edge of science, because it is only when scientists decide to reject the "standard model", for whatever reason, that they can look for the evidence which may one day lead us all to reject the current paradigm. Speculation always stays in a scientific framework. We reject or set aside one key assumption which looks a bit shaky, and then explore the consequences. We look for evidence which says in effect, "Yes, you probably can safely reject that assumption, at least for the moment . . .". Always, the speculator is limited to reasonable hypotheses, varying one or maybe two assumptions here and there.

Take the "out-of-Africa" hypothesis. Mitochondrial DNA says we all descended from a single woman in Africa, but the fossil evidence says that the human races were in place and developing long before "mitochondrial Eve" was born. About the only thing the two sides agree on in this debate is that one of them must be wrong. I disagreed when I heard them asserting this at a public debate in Sydney. I have sometimes wondered where the eyebrow ridges went as humans became fully modern. One of the more bizarre pieces of speculation I heard about was that eyebrow ridges helped to keep long hair out of the eyes, but I have been looking at the standard view of female beauty, which requires a "baby face". We humans are, after all, paedomorphic apes - apes with juvenile characteristics.

Just suppose, I mused, a female with a severely baby face arose, maybe in order to accommodate a larger brain but with a face which was by comparison with the old model, stunningly beautiful. Strong ape men would come from miles around to seek out such a beauty, and if her genes were passed on to her offspring, some of her daughters would probably be abducted, and possibly taken over large distances, establishing new outposts of paedomorphism. The people who believe humans arose where they did are faced with one big problem: most humans do not spread over large distances, but now I have an hypothesis, which I will call the "piggyback gene hypothesis" to explain why the eyebrow ridges disappeared in modern humans and why we all seem to be descended from a single African female. And best of all, my hypothesis allows me to explain the observations of the two contending groups who argue about mitochondrial Eve.

So I have a nice hypothesis, which might allow me to write a best-seller, involving chapters of exalted salacity, steaming brimfully with sex, rape, and abduction, a book which will appeal to feminists because it implies that it was they, not men, who made humans smart. Sadly, the more recent evidence from sequencing the Y chromosome makes it all seem a bit unlikely, suggesting that the male line also originated in Africa at about the same time.

But that is just a minor problem when I am facing fame and fortune. Damn the torpedoes, publish and perish! There is one famous human skull, which I will deliberately not name here, often alleged to have a .22 calibre bullet hole in one temple, and a large exit wound on the other side. The date of this "murder" is a bit uncertain, but definitely well over a hundred thousand years.

Dr Chris Stringer was good enough to show me this skull on the same day that I viewed the Piltdown pieces at the Natural History Museum and he explained that the "bullet hole", while of about the right size, shows signs of healing in the bone. Whatever caused the hole, no weapon, no bullet, arrow or spear could have caused such a wound and left the victim alive long enough to heal the lesion to that extent. And yet, says Stringer, the claims of "spacemen with rifles" still keep coming. So speculation is needed, but it needs to be speculation within some sort of framework.

Without speculation, science will not advance, but without fervent advocacy the speculations that count may never gain due consideration. Equally, without fervent counter-advocacy, we may drown among the psycho-ceramics, charlatans, frauds, and their outputs.

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Type 6 science: Polemic

Did you notice how I slipped in the populist "piggyback gene" a few paragraphs back? I was engaging in a bit of polemic, rather similar to other catchphrases like "continental drift", "survival of the fittest" and "e = mc2", or even "spacemen with rifles".

There is a lot of it going on, all the time, and most of it is comparatively harmless. My piggyback gene, like Desmond Morris' "Naked Ape", would carry people through a fair amount of scientific evidence but probably leave them fairly free to revise their views later. Spacemen with rifles, planets in collision, and other such catchphrases may do more harm than good.

This is because full-blooded polemic is generally all about saying "I'd be happy if this were so, therefore it is so". Just before World War I, the English were very keen to have their own fossil human, to match the French and German finds. God was an Englishman, so the first human must also be one of us, they thought! They wanted "Piltdown". They had predicted it. So the English scientists accepted it when it was found. They kept on accepting it for nearly forty years, even though it contradicted the truth.

Polemic often involves saying "Blow the facts, I want it this way, and I'll biff you if you don't agree". There are some fairly strong personalities around the scientific world and polemic is more common than many people realise or admit. Polemic frequently pays little regard to the facts and so it is only marginally scientific, but the people who engage in this sort of argument still call themselves scientists, and at least they argue about scientific facts.

The argument about cholesterol and heart disease is debated with all the fervour of a religious schism. Others may claim to have evidence that vitamin D deficiency can cause colonic cancer, or photocopiers and fluorescent lights cause skin cancer in office workers. They may just turn out to be correct. Most of the time they will not be right, but their cases are still argued furiously.

You see, scientists will not argue a case if they do not believe it whole-heartedly, and they will not bother to argue a case if everybody agrees with it. If you consider that you have been convinced by logical scientific analysis, it would be only human for you to go in, boots and all, to state your case.

At least the polemicists point the way to an observed (or alleged) pattern, something which can be investigated further. More importantly, there are times when the polemicists are right, so they do have a place in science. The rise and eventual triumph of Dart's Australopithecus over the Piltdown bullies, the slow acceptance of the Germ Theory of disease, even of the adoption of the theory of continental drift, now resurrected as plate tectonics, have shown the value of polemic.

As an undergraduate at ANZAAS in 1962, I watched as Professor Sam Carey, a Tasmanian geologist, seized upon almost every presentation to wring out a scrap of evidence for his own, partially correct, view of continental movements. His ideas were mostly wrong, but there were shreds of evidence there that would not go away, and in the end his polemic and that of others, wore everybody down - once there was some truly decent evidence to look at. Carey was at least partly right, His opponents turned out to be plainly wrong.

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Type 7 science: Pseudo-science

Here you find the people who believe in spacemen with rifles, UFOs, "little green humanoids", and things that go boomp in the night. Then there are the crystal power freaks, the homoeopaths, and the inventors of cars which run on water or other perpetual motion devices, some of whom are probably deliberate frauds, but who use the same mode of presentation. Petrus Macinnius

The proponents of pseudo-science usually take delight in pointing out that their system "transcends" the rules of science, obeys some "higher laws". They do not speculate on this, they assert it. They abhor hypotheses even harder than Nature used to abhor vacuums.

Interestingly, Type 7 people accept most parts of orthodox science, but add generally one "special", one hitherto unknown universal force, or one glaringly obvious, intuitively attractive, but completely unrecognised law. Everything else that they say is consistent with science, given that one supposition, so they fall just within the bounds of science. Watch out for their attitudes to people like Einstein or Newton: they usually attack one or the other of these two worthies, explaining blandly that they can prove mathematically that Einstein or Newton "got it wrong".

The only "plus" for pseudo-science is that like any other attempt at science, a pseudo-science can give us testable propositions. It is because the pseudo-sciences still allow this form of testing that they qualify (barely!) for listing among the "sciences". Earlier, I said technological fraud was not scientific fraud, because there is no possible way somebody can sustain a claim that a technological fraud works and be truly innocent. Some deviousness, some deceit is required as well, even if it is only taken far enough for the fraud to deceive him or herself.

Technological fraud should be impossible to bring off because people want to see the "new inventions" working. Luckily for the con-merchants, people are gullible, willing to believe bizarre things, to accept strange claims. There was even an Australian state Premier who praised a new car engine which used water as a fuel, and encouraged a cancer quack by offering him government support to create a clinic.

But don't you worry about that right now. The point is, there will always be people who are willing to suspend their disbelief and that is why technological fraud sometimes happens. Fortunately, it never lasts. Most children of average intelligence have dreamed of a motor which turns a generator which makes the power which turns the motor, and so on. There are variations like the water wheel which operates a pump to raise the water which powers the water wheel, weird and wonderful arrangements of magnets, rolling weights on wheels, even generators powered by burning hydrogen, which use the electricity to split water by electrolysis, releasing hydrogen to drive the generator.

These are all perpetual motion devices, and even though some of the demonstrations can be most convincing, none of them can truly work. There is absolutely no way of getting energy from nowhere. Still, you can find plenty of people who will claim they are on the verge of a breakthrough. All they need is slightly more powerful magnets, or more ductile widgets, and all will be well. The trouble is the final product never seems to arrive. There has never yet been a "genuine perpetual motion machine" that really was!

But why does pseudoscience sell so well? I think the answer is that, to many people, science is a total mystery. The teacher went too quickly or glossed over an important point and somebody lost the thread. As a teacher, I have to say that "science education" is partly to blame although I do not think it fair just to blame "the teachers" for this.

Whatever the cause, the science education system fails to develop the big ideas of science, fails to ensure that our audiences have a framework in which to understand science, and fails to deal adequately with those parts of science which are so horribly counter-intuitive - like kinetic energy, osmosis, geochronology, evolution, and the inverse square law, to name just a few. It is so much easier to teach, and test, Type 1 things like the meanings of terms or the operations of Ohm's Law.

Meanwhile the people who lost the thread of science are forced to make do with the tatters of understanding which remain with them. Depending on their creative abilities, they are either likely to invent pseudoscience or fall prey to the sharp operators who peddle pseudoscience. To show what I mean, I have invented a new pseudoscience, and I expect to find marketing spin-offs Real Soon Now.

Lying on the beach late one warm afternoon, my science teacher wife and I came to the question of why the beach was so pleasant. Clearly it was due to lying on, and being immersed in, warm sand grains which were spherical. In some way, the grains were absorbing the perverse energies of the universe. Then, because there were no sharp points where the perverse energies could congregate (as electric charge does), the energies were trapped, probably until the tide came up, when the ionic salts in the water would discharge the energies harmlessly into a passing shark (why else are sharks so savage?), or into a passing Angry Penguin.

Our teenage son wandered up at this stage, and suggested to us that there were spherical objects everywhere. In fact, with considerable scientific insight, he suggested that our theory was a load of spherical objects as well (which we took to mean that he thought it pleasing). Still, whatever he meant, the practical lad suggested there was money in our idea and we all began to explore it further. After a quick dip in the surf, (filled with spherical bubbles), our minds went up like balloons. We had a ball, you might say, as we generated the Ball Power Manifesto and Prospectus (application form for membership on the back, all credit cards accepted).

People overloaded at the supra-aural level with perverse energies are often said colloquially to have lost their marbles, so at a subconscious level, everyone has known about Ball Power all along, which imbues our soma like an over-arching but non-hubristic ethos. Pumpkin is generally disliked, and it is a collapsed sphere. Grapes, on the other hand, are much more spherical, and generally enjoyed more, even when they have been crushed, revealing that the inherent sphericity of the grape ethos imbues all portions of the fruit, probably even under-archingly, mutatis mutandis. And who would choose a turnip over an orange?

(Note the deft mix of gobbledegook and simple practicalities in the last paragraph which allows the reader to glide over the bits that hurt the brain, noting how right the simple bits are, and unconsciously extending that rightness to the rest of my arrant claptrap. But I digress: back to our proof.)

Then just look at sporting events, where Rugby League, AFL and ice hockey are nothing more than travelling biff fests. Soccer is less so, and brawls in real hockey, netball, tennis and cricket are rare indeed. Baseball presented something of a problem, but we realised that the ball, when struck by the bat, is seriously deformed from a spherical shape, and there is probably interference from the pseudocrystal shape of the baseball diamond. In any case, the baseball diamonds are green, and you have to avoid green crystals, because they aren't ripe yet, or so our son tells us.

The world has us worried. Most people would prefer a trip around the world to a trip across town, but the world is an oblate spheroid, a flattened sphere. We appeal to all world travellers to Polar regions to carry pebbles (rounded, naturally) with them, and deposit them evenly over the surface, in order to slowly bring our world back to its proper shape. We have a suitable supply of stones available at a remarkably low price for those who truly believe.

Readers are advised that we have copyrighted, patented, registered and staked claims to Ball Power. If you find a way of making money from this boondoggle, we expect a cut!

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Topic Ideas

Poster/display projects
Human biology
Space science
Earth science
Models and demonstrations
Electrical and magnetic
Machines and engineering
Body systems
Fossils, the history of life
Earth sciences
Space science
Manufacturing and technology
Mapping and measuring
Forensic science
Electricity and magnetism
Classical physics
Light and vision
Kitchen studies
Community science
Water and other fluids
Earth sciences
Animal behaviour
Miscellaneous biology
Computer-based projects
Surveys and reports
Earth sciences
Field Studies
Research projects
The skeptical enquirer
Electricity and magnetism
Radiation and radio-activity
Other Physics
Mathematical applications
Earth science
Consumer science
Field Studies
Information fossicking/history of science

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There are now some 1850 science fair and science project ideas here. I am still working on help files to give people planning projects extra ideas and pointers and hints. In the end though, your project is your project, so make your own decisions. My aim has been not to suggest complete tasks, but to provide sparks that will give people some ideas, either directly, or indirectly, by making them think of something of their own that they could do. Projects are about doing science, right?

Serious help will be available later this year in the form of other commercial ebooks written as companions to this one. Unlike this sample frolicking, most of them will be low-cost commercial products, for which you will be expected to pay. The ideas are roughly grouped by the type of activity, and by subject matter, but you would be well-advised to spend some time browsing around, or searching for key words to see what may suit you. The ideas tend to get harder as you work down the list, but you can make a simple task from the hardest idea, or a complex study from a simple idea.

No idea has gone in the list unless I thought I could probably do it myself, given the right materials and some research. There are a number of entries where all you have is a name (like Foucault's pendulum) where I have left you to find out what it was, and why it was important. In most cases, a Web search for the exact phrase will get you close to an answer.

About half of the ideas are mine, the rest are collected from a variety of sources. The ideas on their own are not copyright and so any of the ideas may be freely used and modified, but this collection as a whole represents a great deal of hard work and is copyright © Peter Macinnis, 2002. That said, this page may be copied for NON-Web use, so long as it retains this statement of claim, designed to make life hard for rogues. It may not be sold, reproduced in any other format or included in any product which is sold, or which has an ISSN or ISBN. No, you may NOT place a copy of it anywhere on the Web, no you may not clip part of it and present it as your own work: just point to this URL, where the latest version will be found.

If that seems blunt, please understand that one parasite in a Chicago school actually tried that -- and got caught.

Now here is some navigation help, but don't forget that there is usually a Find function that will let you find key words in the text:

Poster and display projects, Models and demonstrations, Collections, Experiments, Survey reports, Research projects

Poster/display projects


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How my favourite animal moves
The invertebrates people eat
Insects: good or bad?
Stick insects
Earthworms and soil
Primitive animals
Prehistoric animals
Prehistoric insects
The age of reptiles
Were dinosaurs warm-blooded?
Biological control methods
Birds in my garden
The care and feeding of birds
Parts of a bird
Migration of birds
Parts of a hen's egg
Parts of a horse
Rats are eating your food
Rabbits as pests
Feral cats
Cloning an animal

Human biology

The human heart
Blood circulation
The nervous system
How a tooth decays
How skin forms
How skin heals
The human eye
Parts of the eye
The ear
Human nutrition
A healthy breakfast
Food values
Inside fruit
Testing for food starch

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Prehistoric plants
How plants reproduce
Growing trees
The life story of a tree
Leaf characteristics
Plants grow toward light
Miniature greenhouse
Nuts, cones and seeds
How seeds travel
Wild flowers
Parts of a flower
The parts of a cell
Flower collection
Different types of bark

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A balanced aquarium
Habitat studies
The street trees near my home
Weeds that grow near my home
Ecology of our school grounds
The things living on a single plant
Bushfire regeneration
Biomes of the world
Inside a rotten log
Inside an old tree
Animals under the ground
A model swamp in a tank

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Space science

The solar system
The sun, moon and earth
Phases of the moon
My favourite constellations
X-ray astronomy
Radio astronomy
How an interferometer works

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Earth science

Faults and joints
Earthquake damage
How mountains are made
How cliffs form
How valleys are made
Oil and oil prospecting
Natural gas
Soil conservation methods
The origins of soil salinity
How do deserts develop?

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The barometer and what it tells us
Fog and mist
Rain and snow
Measuring winds
El Niño and La Niña

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How vaccines work
The Black Death
How antibiotics work
Clean water and health

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What is matter?
What is matter made of?
Types of matter
Why perpetual motion does not work
The physics of toys
Bridges that fall down, and why
The Plimsoll line

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Models and demonstrations

Electrical and magnetic

Rust and rust prevention
The electromagnetic spectrum
How electricity is made
The thermocouple
The Bunsen-Grove Battery
A Daniell cell
A model Galvanic pile
Fuel cells
Solar cells
A model generator
The telephone
The telegraph key
Sending messages by electricity
Working of a telegraph
A simple compass
The principles of a transformer
A working electromagnet
Wheatstone's 6-needle telegraph
An electromagnetic crane
A model train signal
How traffic signals work
The electric eye
Burglar alarm systems
A bell system
The action of a solenoid
The uses of a solenoid in the home
The electrical relay
A door chime
A model galvanometer
The blinker light
A crystal radio set
Fluorescent lights
Operation of a doorbell
Parts of an electric motor
The arc light
Bulbs in series and parallel
An electronic rain gauge
Linear motors
The practical uses of superconductors

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Where we get energy from
The conversions of energy
Types of fuels
Products made from oil
Wave power
Wind power
Chemical changes
Fire must have air to burn
Power and food from the sea
Our natural resources
A solar furnace
Steam propulsion
Steam turbines
Overshot or undershot water wheels
Natural and machine jet propulsion,
The internal combustion engine
Applications of expansion and contraction
Applications of conduction and insulation
How does a nuclear reactor work?
The nuclear fuel cycle

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Machines and engineering

Simple machines
Machines made work easier
The fulcrum and the lever
The science of the woomera
A model arm
A model skeleton
The efficiency of a block and tackle
Uses of the wedge
Power transfer by drive trains
Power transfer by line shafting, belts and chains
Power transfer by hydrodynamics
How jet engines and rockets work
Model aeroplanes
Paper aeroplane designs
What makes a kite fly well?
Parts of a sailing boat
Parts of a windmill
Workings of an irrigation pump
Pump design
A string pump in action
The science of the bow
Medieval building and lifting tools
Siege engines
Making tunnels by hand
Ballistas, onagers and their relatives

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Body systems

Circulation in different animals
A model of the heart
Getting oxygen around the body
A lung model
Digestive systems
How do invertebrates chew their food?
Teeth in different animals
A comparison of several skeletons
Cleaning and articulating a skeleton
A model of an arthropod leg
Nervous systems
Reaction times
Hearing in different animals
Vision in different animals
A model of the eye
The depth of focus of the eye?
A model of the human ear
Making sound waves visible
Feedback in living things
Wings in bats, birds and insects

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Fossils, the history of life

A history of shells
How fossils are formed
How fossils are found and prepared
How fossils are interpreted
The fossils in soft coal
Dating methods for fossils and rocks
Tree-ring dating

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Earth sciences

Inside a cave
Minerals: origin, distribution
Cross section of a volcano
Cross section of an oil well
Cross section of the earth
Rocks and the rock cycle
Hardness in rocks and minerals
Mining methods before 1750
Modern mining methods
Petroleum and oil
Forces changing the earth's surface
What causes erosion?
The evidence of erosion happening
How can soil erosion be prevented?
Air pollution: causes and solutions
Electrostatic particle precipitation
Precipitation: rain, snow and sleet
A seismograph
Measuring the ocean depths
Models of folding and faulting
The phosphorus cycle
The nitrogen cycle
The carbon cycle
Coriolis forces
Fossil seeds
Types of mud
Meanders and billabongs (oxbow lakes)

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The water cycle
El Niño, La Niña and the ENSO
Bubbles, films and surface tension
How are animals affected by physics?
Water pollution from industrial causes
Water pollution from run-off stormwater
Eutrophication and algal blooms
Algal blooms in sea water
The causes of salination in soil
The cures for salination in soil
Distillation of water
Solar distillation of salt water
Water filtration methods
Water finds its own level
How do steel boats float?
The Plimsoll line
Why don't ships and boats turn over?
Why don't ships and boats sink?
Canals and locks
A meter to measure liquid flow
Water supplies and water management
Water supports heavy weights
Water is a compound
A study of a stream
Tides, their causes, and prediction
Floods and their causes
Droughts and their effects
A model water table
A model of a spring
Is spring water better for you?
The behaviour of waves
Dripping taps and water waste
Water drop formation
How much water will different fibres absorb?
The Coolgardie safe
Capillary effects

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Global weather patterns
The evidence for global warming
Air currents
Climate and how it is assessed
Weather and human survival
A weather station
The effects of air pressure
Air pressure in a mercury barometer
A water or glycerin barometer
A model hygrometer
Weather instruments and forecasting
Wind vane design
Making an electronic anemometer
Detecting and tracking a thunderstorm
Making an effective anemometer
How does a rain gauge work?
Homemade weather instruments
The climate of your own home
What makes some clouds black?
If the Earth was a cube
If water melted at 20 degrees C
If ice was more dense than water

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Space science

Causes of day and night
Causes of the seasons
Causes of eclipses
Astronomy without a telescope
A model of the solar system
The planets
The asteroids
Rotation of the planets
Our solar system
Phases of the moon
Space travel is coming
Measuring outer space
A safe apparatus for observing the sun
Different types of telescope
How far away is the moon from Earth?
How far away is the sun from Earth?
How far away is a planet from Earth?
How far away is a star from Earth?
Finding planets of other stars

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Viscosity and its uses
Does heat affect the viscosity of liquids?
Does the viscosity of a liquid affect its boiling point?
Which liquid has the highest viscosity?
Viscosity of fluids in flywheel bearings
Which liquid has the highest viscosity? Petrus Macinnius
Glass and its uses
Expansion and contraction of liquids
Which metals conduct heat best?
The quartz family
Models of atoms
Models of molecules
Models of crystals
How flux works with solder
What kind of glue holds two boards together better?
Creep in copper wire
Creep in rubber
The creep of lead

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Manufacturing and technology

The strength of materials
How are metals made?
How are metals formed into useful things?
How are plastics made?
How are plastics formed into useful things?
How is glass made?
Moulding and casting
Salt and its uses
Sulfur in industry
Mercury, a peculiar metal
Manufacturing machinery
Machines and tools
Weaving and sewing techniques
Printing methods
Pottery and ceramics
Grain storage and transport
Food storage before refrigerators
Building ships and boats without nails
Stone tools
What affects the making of glass?
What affects the making of steel?

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A solar-powered water purifier
New uses for throwaway items
Getting to the clothes line in muddy conditions
Keeping snails off the garden
Building a fly trap
Making an efficient cockroach trap
A cockroach detector
A mouse detector
Keeping ants out of the kitchen
Keeping cats out of the garden
An apparatus to provide a constant force
A method for encouraging spiders that eat mosquitoes

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Light and how it operates
Lamps old and new
The Argand lamp
Lenses, concave and convex
How spectacles work
Which type of sunglass lens blocks the most light?
A model periscope using prisms
How a burning glass works
How a microscope works
A simple microscope model
Cameras and their use
A projector
How a computer works
Making a chip
Sugar glow
Optical illusions
The Fraser illusion
Munsterberg illusion
The Pulfrich pendulum illusion
The blind spot in your eye
Camouflage in nature
The Fresnel lens

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Mapping and measuring

Using a compass to map an area
Profiles of the bottom of a meandering river
Topographic mapping
Contour mapping
Surveying methods for mapping
Measuring latitude by the noon sun
Plotting the noon sun over six months
Calibrating water clocks
Temperature and the water clock?
Sundials and sundial design
Candles as timing devices
Making a more efficient candle

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Forensic science

Fingerprinting as a method of identification
Forensic science methods
Pencil lines under the microscope
Identifying different inks
Identifying different types of pen
Identifying different pencil leads used in drawing
The Bertillon method of identification
The validity of Cesare Lombroso's system
Edmund Locard's exchange principle
How can you tell the age of buried bones?
Identifying different animal blood samples
Identifying textiles from a single fibre

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How is sound obtained from a compact disc?
The flame of a wax candle and what it reveals
Spectroscopy of a candle flame
The effect of sound on a candle flame
Applications of Bernoulli's Principle
Demonstrations of Newton's Laws

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A rock collection from an area
A collection of rock thin sections
A fossil collection from an area
A mineral collection from an area
A lichen collection from an area
A moss collection from an area
A crystal collection
Zircons from granite
A leaf collection
A wood collection
A seed collection
A shell collection
A feather collection
A collection of photos of birds in an area
A collection of photos of cloud formations
A tape of frog calls from an area
A tape of bird calls from an area
A herbarium collection of wildflowers
A herbarium collection of weeds from an area
Pollen grains from local plants
A photo album of the fish found in a small area
Scat photos and track casts of wild animals
A collection of fibre microphotographs
Photographs taken with a pinhole camera

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Electricity and magnetism

How do magnets work?
How are magnets made?
What kind of things do magnets attract?
How can you measure the strength of a magnet?
Core temperature of an electromagnet and its strength
The effect of temperature on the strength of a permanent magnet
How electromagnetic waves carry energy
Applications of electromagnetic waves carrying energy
Do electromagnetic fields affect plant growth?
Do strong electromagnetic fields affect microorganisms?
What blocks a magnetic force field?
Can magnets erase a floppy disc?
How is current affected by the type of conductor?
How is current affected by the temperature?
Does temperature affect electrical conductivity?
How do similar alloys conduct electricity?
How is current affected by the diameter of a wire?
Comparing electromagnets for strength
What affects the strength of an electromagnet
Comparing wires for electrical conductivity
The principles of fluorescent lights
Electrical discharges in different gases
How conductive is damp wood?
The forces on conductors carrying electric current
Does temperature affect the operation of a solar cell?
The forces between magnets
The efficiency of a 12 volt motor

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How can we show that sound is vibration?
How can we tell where a sound comes from?
How good are we at hearing one voice in a crowd?
Can mothers recognise the cry of their own child?
Can fathers recognise the cry of their own child?
How do parents and other adults react to the cry of a child?
What makes three tenors all sound different?
How far can speech be transmitted through a tube?
How important is diameter in a long speaking tube?
The resonance of metal rings
The resonance of wine glasses
Do soap bubbles have a natural resonance?
The glass harmonica
Chladni figures
The dawn chorus
Voiceprints of bird songs
Voiceprints of frog calls
Voices and how we tell them apart
An electromechanical speech synthesiser
The acoustic properties of a kettledrum
A new musical instrument
Which type of line carries sound waves best?
What factors affect the pitch of a musical instrument?
How do different solids affect the transmission of sound?
Does the length of a vibrating object affect sound?
Vibration of a rubber sheet
Transmission of sound through water

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Classical physics

Which metal has the greatest heat capacity?
How do different metals compare in specific heat?
Measuring the heat capacity of different liquids
Do all metals expand at the same rate when heated?
Do metals expand at the same rate at different temperatures?
Will different air temperatures affect the size of a balloon?
Pressure/volume relationship in a rubber balloon
Forces in the skin of a balloon
How are hot air balloons different from blimps?
Does temperature affect the flight of hot-air balloons?
How much do liquids expand when they are heated?
The conduction of heat in different metals
Where are the main heat losses in a thermos flask?
How and where do humans lose heat in cold weather?
Does aluminium foil make a difference in cooking times?
How do metals compare in conducting heat?
How do different metals compare in density?
How does temperature affect the density of liquids?
Comparing the density and buoyancy of different objects
How much salt does it take to float a fresh egg?
Does water with salt boil faster than plain water?
Colour and the thermal radiation an object absorbs
Comparing the densities of different gases
The effects of different salts on the freezing point of water
How efficient are different types of steam engines
A wind powered AC generator system
How do water waves carry energy?
How do obstacles affect wave motion?
The effect of shelving on breaking of waves
Origins and forms of waves at interfaces
Three-dimensional waves in jelly
What limits the speed of a boat in water?
What limits the speed of a truck?
What limits the speed of an aircraft?
What is the best nose cone shape for a model rocket?
Plotting the path of a ball through air
The flight properties of a shuttle cock
Determining viscosity from the free fall of a sphere
Viscosity measurements

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Light and vision

How long does the flash from a flashbulb last?
Designing a better pinhole camera
The optimum aperture of a pinhole camera
How is light affected as it passes through water?
How do rainbows form?
Lenses of ice and other materials
A simple reflecting telescope
A home-made microscope
Diffraction gratings
Lens making
Liquid crystals
Liquid lenses
Materials that polarise light
The polarisation of scattered light
The polarising effects of Sellotape
Polarised light from sky
How reflected light is polarized
Measuring the speed of light
Moiré patterns
Oil films
Chromatic aberration and achromatic lenses
Rutherford scattering
Scattering light
The Poisson spot
The spectra of different lamps

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Are some substances more soluble than others?
Does temperature affect solubility?
How is chemical change affected by heat?
How is chemical change affected by light?
How is chemical change affected by catalysts?
How are acidic and basic solutions produced?
How can acidic and basic solutions be modified?
What acid and basic solutions are around the house
Does temperature affect the pH of acids?
Temperature and the pH and conductivity of water
Acid in orange juice
The pH levels of different types of apples and oranges
Acidic, basic, and neutral liquids
The amount of oxygen and the rate of burning?
Kitchen chemistry
Bathroom science
Garden chemistry
Laundry and bathroom chemistry
Colloidal suspensions
Diffusion and its uses
Gas chromatography
Liesegang bands
Paper chromatography
Salt fountains
Thin layer chromatography
Why do old oil paintings crack?

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Necking and other effects in stretched polymer sheets
Design a vacuum pump
What are the properties of a good synthetic rubber?
Can cloth or string be made from local materials?
Designs for string bags
A reed basket
A hand-made fish trap
Cat's cradles
The physics of fly casting
Heat engines using rubber-bands
Hitches and knots
Sundials and sundial designs
How big should a parachute be?
What controls the descent rate of parachutes?
The aerodynamics of hang-gliders
The flight of the Frisbee
How do aeroplanes fly?
The best wing shape for an aeroplane
What makes a good kite?
Does the shape of a kite affect its flight?
Better boomerang designs
Parachute design and terminal velocity
How many blades should a fan have?
The hydrodynamics of sailing craft
Sail material, shapes, size and boat speed
The slot effect in close hauled sailing
Sea anchor designs
Efficient windmill designs
How does the design of a windmill's blades affect its power?
Which propeller shape works the best?
Turbine blades
The Stirling engine
Casting metals
The effects of pouring molten metal into water
What sort of sand works best for cire perdue casting?
Glass blowing
The structure of iron and other metals

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Kitchen studies

How much weight does a tea bag lose?
How much will a celery strip curl when soaked in water?
Popcorn popping rates
Sorting and disposing of rubbish from the kitchen
Which decays first, brown bread or white bread?
Telling a fresh egg from a stale egg
Telling a hard-boiled egg from a raw one
Identifying a shaken can of drink without opening it
How biodegradable are 'biodegradable' products?
Brown bananas
What makes apples go brown?
How much of an apple is water?
How much water is there in dried fruit?
How much of an orange is water?
Will oranges rot faster in the refrigerator or out of it?
How can we speed or slow the ripening of fruit?
Does light affect the ripening rate of apples?
Does temperature affect the ripening rate of apples?
Will apples ripen slower if isolated from each other?
What conditions slow the ripening of fruit?
Does storage temperature affect the acid content of fruit?
How does ethylene affect the sugar content of apples?
Which part of the refrigerator is best for storing fruit?
Does all fruit keep better in the refrigerator?
Does lettuce keep longer in the refrigerator?
What is the best temperature to store milk?
Which freezes first, hot or cold water?
Salt, ice and anti-freezing effects at different temperatures
Can you separate salt from water by freezing?
Will water with salt evaporate faster than water without salt?
Does on ice cube melt faster in air or water?
Which part of the refrigerator is coldest?
How much detergent do we really need to wash up?
The physical efficiency of common surfactants
Dyes made from local plants
Fading rates in naturally-dyed cloth
Do all colours fade at the same rate?
Which fabric dyes last the longest in the wash?
Which flowers and/or foods act as indicators?
Which food colourings are also acid-base indicators?
Which coloured foods are also acid-base indicators?
Hydrogen ion content and pigment colour
What is the colour composition of red inks, dyes and paints?
Electrostatic precipitation of dust particles
What is in the dust that collects in my house?
Dust mites
Which natural fruit juices contain the most Vitamin C?
Does heat destroy Vitamin C?
Do light affect the Vitamin C content of juice?
Which type of packaging retains Vitamin C the best in orange juice?
Comparing the pH of different antacids
Which common beverage is most acidic?

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Community science

Planning a community
The city of the future
How effective is recycling in my community?
Variations in the background radiation in my community
A sound and noise map of my community
A lead pollution map of my community
'Concrete cancer' in seaside or industrial areas
The influence of warming up on performance
Does a bath take less water than a shower?
The amount of daily unrecyclable household rubbish (trash)
How can feral predators be controlled?
Developing insect pest lures
Testing marigolds to control insect pests
The wattage of light bulbs and the heat they emit
More efficient design in light fittings

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Water and other fluids

Fluids, and why they are special
What is in tap water?
What types of bacteria are found in tap water?
Testing the purity of bottled water
Testing the quality of water
How clean is the water off my roof?
Can the sun's energy be used to clean polluted water?
Does the amount of solute affect the rate of evaporation of a solution?
Does the type of solute affect the rate of evaporation of a solution?
How does temperature affect evaporation rates?
How does humidity affect evaporation rates?
How does wind speed affect evaporation rates?
How much cooling can evaporation produce?
Do all liquids cool as they evaporate?
Cleaning up oil slicks
The freezing of water
Freezing water, rates, and initial temperatures
Frost and how it forms
How strong is ice?
Hero's Fountain
Hydraulic rams
Water pumps for the developing world
Liquid streams
Design a highly efficient chimney pot
Non-Newtonian fluids
Does the flow rate of water affect its pressure?
The coiling of liquid streams
Convection currents in liquids
Vortexes in water and flames
Wakes and washes from vessels
What are the aerodynamic forces on a motor car?
What shapes the bow waves produced by a boat?
What makes a low-drag hull? Petrus Macinnius
Hull design for different types of craft
How does wing design affect lift?
Factors affecting the lift of an aerofoil
What is the best design for reduced wing drag?
How does the shape of an aeroplane's fuselage affect drag?
Behaviour of drops on a hot plate
Behaviour of ink drops in water
Water droplets that float on water
Why does the shower curtain move inwards?
The flow of water around a U-bend
Water flow round obstructions
Water impact with a plane surface of water
The flow over dam spillways
Estimating the flow in a river
The efficient design of street drains
Plotting the water table on a beach
Sampling a 100-metre water column
Water temperature and flotation
The Venturi principle
What influences the flow of sand, powders and crystals?
The factors making the ideal spout for pouring
Rings formed by running water on flat plates
Rotating liquid surfaces
The study of splashes
Which materials absorb the most water?
What type of soil filters water best?
What materials dissolve in water?

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What colours can be seen in the aurora?
How does day length vary over the year?
How does day length vary with latitude on a given day?
When does dew form?
Measuring how much dew is formed in a square metre
Do frost factors increase the amount of dew?
How reliable is a hygrometer?
How does the temperature change during the day?
Make your own thermometer and keep your own records
The rainfall near home and the daily weather reports?
How does cloud seeding work?
What does the structure of a hailstone tell us?
What would happen to the weather if the Earth was a cube?

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Earth sciences

Columnar jointing in igneous rocks
Mud cracks
How do different soils differ?
How important are earthworms to soil and plants?
Soil components and the growth of plants?
What are the influences on soil of microarthropods?
How fast is the rock weathering on a fresh surface?
Can you get water out of a stone?
What are the densities of different rocks?
The water content of different soils
The water-holding capacity of different soils
Which type of soil will eroded most easily by running water?
How does slope affect stream velocity?
How much water is there in dry "soil?"
Soil porosity and the water-holding capacity of soil
What is the porosity of different types of soils
Which type of soil absorbs the most heat from sunlight?
How do meanders form in a river?
How much silt is there in a river at different times?
A model Foucault pendulum
Beach science

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What use is a stem for a flower?
What controls the movement of water through plants?
Day length, animals and plants
How much plant food is best?
How do plants get nitrogen?
Which plants add nitrogen to the soil?
Plants and their responses to light
How much light does a plant need to find the light?
What colour light do plants grow best in?
The best growing media for lettuce and radish seeds
Atmospheric pressure and seed germination rates
Atmospheric pressure and plant growth
The effects of increased oxygen levels on plants
How much water do plants absorb?
How do insectivorous plants catch their prey?
How water moves through the plant
Leaf internal structures in different genera
The structure of the flower in grass.
How fast do grass roots grow?
Variations in a single species of grass
Plant reproduction
Which plants move, why and how?
The effects of gravity on seed root growth and direction
Can endangered ferns be grown from spores?
Measuring the metabolism of a fungus
Measuring the metabolism of seeds
The effect of chlorination on algae
Controls for algal growth on wet paving
What really grows between the tiles in the shower?
Grafting in plants
Can a tomato plant be grafted to a potato plant?
Nutrition of plants and fertilisers: what do plants need?
Comparisons of artificial and organic fertilisers
Using plants for bioremediation
What effect does oil have on water plants?

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What is the life cycle of a fly?
How long does a fly live?
What factors affect the pupating rate of house flies?
What is the life cycle of a butterfly?
How many ants are there in a nest?
How far do the ants of a nest travel for food?
How far do bees travel from their hive?
What conditions are best for the growth of walking stick insects?
Behaviour of crickets in a closed system
The affect of humidity on the 'singing' rate of crickets
How does the intensity of light affect the behaviour of crickets?
How does acceleration affect the behaviour of crickets?
How do crickets respond to caffeine?
How does caffeine affect the heartbeat of water fleas?
What natural substances will kill mosquito larvae?
Which herbs can be used as a pesticide to control mosquito larvae?
Using citrus peel as a natural pesticide to control mosquito larvae
Testing the effectiveness of several natural insect control measures
Which environmental conditions do 'sow bugs' prefer?
What are the effects of temperature on insects?
Breed cockroaches to learn their life cycle
Regeneration in planarian worms
How do different environments affect the regeneration of flatworms?
Do magnetic fields affect the growth of flatworms?
How does pH affect the regeneration rate of planaria?
How does water temperature affect the regeneration rate of planaria?
How does the concentration of dissolved oxygen affect the regeneration rate of planaria?
Does an earthworm react to light and dark?
How does different coloured light affect the behaviour of earthworms?
Chemical communication in earthworms
Does an earthworm react to noise or tones?
How do earthworms manage with no skeletons?
How does earthworm population relate to soil type?
The effect of moisture on activity in earthworms
What soil factors do earthworms prefer?
Which travels faster: a snail or a worm?
How far does a snail travel in one minute?
How much can a caterpillar eat in one day?
What are the humidity preferences of a flour beetle?
What foods do mealworms prefer?
What foods make mealworms grow fastest?
Reactions of mealworms to different types of surfaces
How do different colours affect the behaviour of mealworms?
How do ultrasonic sounds affect mealworms?
Which environmental conditions do mealworms prefer?
How does temperature affect the activity of mealworms?
How do different levels of salinity affect brine shrimp?
How does pH affect brine shrimp?
What is the effect of temperature on the respiration rate of goldfish?
How do pet mice respond to different types of food?
What are bones made of?
What determines how strong a muscle is?
Seeing blood cells in various animals
What surface does a snail move fastest on?
Do ants like honey or sugar better?
Do different kinds of caterpillars eat different amounts of food?
Do different size caterpillars eat different amounts of food?
Do mint leaves or other herbs repel ants?
How does water quality affect the ciliates in a pond?
The effect of light on the growth of ciliates
How do detergents affect brine shrimp?
What environmental factors will increase the heart rate of daphnia?
The effects of water pollution on snails
What is the effect of an oil spill on brine shrimp?
Using bacteria in hydrocarbon bioremediation

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Animal behaviour

Behaviour of magpies
Behaviour of crows
Behaviour of seagulls
Learning in cockroaches
Learning in slaters (woodlice)
Learning in planarian worms
Do mealworms prefer light of dark environments?
Does noise affect learning?
The effect of written and verbal stimuli on learning
How do learning styles affect memorisation?
How does a single species of animal communicate?
Does body language depend on your culture?
Do animals prefer or avoid coloured water?
How much can rats learn?
What instincts does a dog still have?
What instincts does a cat still have?
Can a goldfish learn?
Short term and long term memory
Stimulus and response
Subliminal messages
Does surrounding colour affect an insect's eating habits?
Responses of soil arthropods to light, moisture and soil
The effects of age on reflexes
How do day-old domestic chicks behave?
What colour of birdseed do birds like best?
Can you train a fish to respond to sound?
How high can a dog count?
What factors affect the ability of a rodent to negotiate a maze?
Wall-seeking behaviour in mice
How mice respond to being separated?
Colour preferences in gerbils
How does age affect learning abilities of hamsters?
What is the effect of height above ground on the attraction of birds to a feeder?
What colour of bird feeder will attract the most birds?
Light and its affect on the eating behaviour of mice

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How do people differ in the ability to match the pitch of two sounds?
Can you tell where sound comes from when you are blindfolded?
Does exercise affect your reflexes?
Does bright light affect acuity of vision?
Can you see better if you limit the light that gets to your eye?
The blind spot
The Benham disc
Humming and vision
How does your vision change with age?
Can colour-blind people see past camouflage?
Do dogs (or other pets) see colours?
It's better having two eyes!
Eyes and the ability to judge distances
Computer-generated stereoscopic images
The lateral line in fish Petrus Macinnius
What senses does a starfish have?
Can food be tasted without being smelled?
How much does age affect the sensation of temperature?
How accurately can people judge temperature?
How does colour affect perceived taste sensations of noncarbonated beverages?
Taste sensitivity of smokers and non-smokers
Can things be identified by just their smell?
How much does age affect the sensation of smell?
How well do dogs smell?
Can land snails smell and hear?
Do boys and girls have similar powers of smell?
The effects of sight and smell on taste
Identifying food while blindfolded
How much does age affect the sensation of taste?
How well can boys and girls identify fruits by taste alone?
How well do we identify food by taste alone?
How well can people judge time without a watch or clock?
Is using two eyes to judge distance more accurate than using one eye?
Taste on the tip of the tongue
Does the human tongue have definite areas for certain tastes?
Which taste sense is most sensitive?
Tasting the difference between regular and fat free foods
How do people differ in their ability to detect sweetness?
Adults, children, and Cola drink recognition
Do animals have a magnetic sense?
Can you tell what something is just by touching it?
How reliable is the sense of touch?
Can we train our sense of touch?
How is 2-year-old talk different from ours?
How many words does a 2-year-old know?
How large is the vocabulary of a 12-year-old?
How large is the vocabulary of an adult?
How do roots respond to gravity?

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Miscellaneous biology

Heart rate, fitness and exercise
Do children's heart rates change as they get older?
How does music affect heart rate?
What activities affect your heart rate?
What is the effect of caffeine on blood pressure?
What is the effect of exercise on blood pressure?
What is the effect of aerobic activity on respiration rate?
Pulse reactions
Do boys or girls have a higher resting heart rate?
Are boys taller than girls of the same age?
Do boys or girls have the biggest feet?
Do boys or girls have the smallest hands?
The history of a growing tooth, from casts
What effect does coffee have on blood pressure?
Making a terrarium
The physics and biology of pole-vaulting
What body form makes a good sprinter?
What body form makes the best distance runner?
What body form makes the best tennis player?
What body form makes the best swimmer?
What body form makes the best diver?
What body form makes the best gymnast?
Do taller people run faster than shorter people?
How friction effects a runner on different surfaces

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Which home materials make the best capacitor dielectric?
Transmitting still pictures
How does the gauge of wire affect the resistance in a circuit?
Which materials make the best resistor in a circuit?
Characteristics of a light dependent resistor
How do LDRs respond to different colours?
The photoelectric effect in semiconductors
Which two wires produce the most thermoelectricity?
The piezoelectric effect
The electrical characteristics of a solar cell
Using a transistor as a zener diode
The interference produced by electric switches
Minimising feedback in a microphone system
The noise in a hot resistor
The carbon microphone
The capacitor microphone
Making and testing a graphite strip microphone
Loudspeakers and enclosures
Building and testing an electrostatic speaker
A comparison of three loudspeakers

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Computer-based projects

Practical applications of control systems
A walking machine with stepper motors
Maze-solving 'robot mice'
A simulation of evolution through natural selection
Number theory studies with a spreadsheet
A simulation of genetic drift

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Surveys and reports


The forces on fences
The forces on power line poles
The design of light poles near roads
Are bridges built to last?
Better hovercraft designs

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Earth sciences

How the ancient Greeks knew the Earth was round
Geological structures in my area
Building stones used in my area, and their origins
The evidence of weathering and erosion in my area
Soil types in my area

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Field Studies

Plant and animal life in the school grounds
A population study of a vertebrate species
Who eats what in the local park?
The pattern of grass species on a lawn
A study of a creek or stream
A study of a grassy field
A study of a single tree
A study of a home garden
The life in a compost heap
A study of a balanced aquarium
Changes in the populations of a grass clippings heap
Changes in the leaf litter animals of an area
Life in an area across several seasons
The diets of various animals
How dangerous is waste plastic in the environment?
How long does rubbish take to break down?

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How does a spider make its web?
What weight can a spider's web hold?
How does a bird make its nest?
Bushfires: what factors influence bushfire danger?
How do roots detect and grow towards water?
Why do only some plants grow from cuttings?
The sequence of invasion by weeds in a disturbed area
The plant species flowering in an area, month by month
Time-lapse photography with a digital camera
What is the source of honey (from pollen analysis)?
Right-handed and left-handed shells, past and present
Handedness in twining plants
Vein patterns in insect wings from the same species
Where are wombats found?
What do koalas eat?

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Compare the frequency of falling stars at different times
Map the main stars in the sky, using a cross-stave
The path of a planet with home-made instruments
Does the moon rise in the same place each night?
Map the moon's path across the night sky against the stars
How does the number of meteors vary during the night?
Meteor detection with a radio

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Research projects

The skeptical enquirer

Does pyramid power really work?
Do crystals heal sick people in a double-blind study?
Does star sign or date of birth influence sporting ability?
Does the moon affect human behaviour?
Can a pendulum predict the sex of a chicken while it is in the egg?

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Which metal wire has the most tensile strength?
Which fibre has the most tensile strength?
Can eggs stand more force from some directions?
How strong is human hair of different thickness?
How strong are nylon fishing lines?
How strong are spider webs from different species?
How strong is silkworm silk?
What factors affect the bounce of a dropped ball?
How do compression and tension make things strong?
How strong is a toothpick?
The strength of the bond between timber and a nail
The effect of light on degradable materials
What is chitin made of?
How much lignin is there in different types of wood?
What factors affect the strength of wood?
The conductivity of electrolytes in wood
Comparing the strength of solid and laminated wood beams
Are composites stronger than monolithic laminates?
Studying the effects of stretching different plant tissues
How do different woods expand when they are wet?
The mechanical properties of plastic sulfur over time
Which materials can be charged with static electricity?
High static, low static and anti-static carpets
How strong are plastic wraps?
Why does cling wrapping cling?
The properties of PTFE (Teflon)
Crosslinks and polymer elasticity
Comparing elasticity of different polymers
Temperature and the elasticity of a rubber band
The shattering of glass
Conchoidal fractures
Rupert's drops
How was iron made from bog iron ore?
How were bronze axes made?
How were metals made before 1500 AD? Which ones?
Industrial chemicals before 1800
Industrial chemicals before 1900
Making a mirror
The properties of foam plastic
The insulation properties of plastic cups
Properties of a paste of flour and water
The melting points of solders of various composition
Making a lava lamp

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Underwater sound recording
The pitch of xylophone bars of different materials
More interesting wind chimes
Sound frequencies from metal plates
The scientific principles behind musical instruments
The singing of a kettle
Sounds generated in water pipes
What makes a whip crack?
What is the range limit for a string telephone?
What is the difference between music and noise?
Is there a formula for the frequency of a plucked string?
The harmonics in a note, using Helmholtz resonators
Is there a formula for the main tone of an organ pipe?
An electronic tuning device for musical instruments
How is sound produced?
How is sound transmitted?
What affects the pitch of sound?
Perfect pitch
What affects the volume of sound?
The analysis and synthesis of musical sounds
Whispering galleries
What makes some restaurants noisier than others?
The control of sound in rooms
The acoustics in large buildings
The reverberation time of a large hall
Measuring the velocity of sound accurately
Humidity and the speed of sound in air
The speed of sound in salt and fresh water
The speed of sound in different solids

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The thermoelectric effect in metal wire and foils
An efficient thermopile
Which light bulb produces the most light?
Fire and burning- what factors affect burning?
Fuels and their efficiency in producing energy
How easy is it to make and use biogas?
Designing and constructing solar panels
Designing and constructing solar cookers
Making paraboloid mirrors for solar heating
A solar-powered steam engine
Models of wave and tide electricity production
What is maximum efficiency of a water wheel?
Water wheel designs
Does an overshot or undershot water wheel create the most kinetic energy?
Paddle wheel performance
The performance of a model diesel engine

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Electricity and magnetism

Which pole of a magnet attracts the most magnetotactic bacteria?
Hysteresis in a transformer
Hysteresis in rubber
Magnetic suspension of a piece of iron
A practical humidity switch
A practical sound-operated switch
How far can a static electric telegraph transmit?
How long does a static charge last?
What makes charge leak faster from an electroscope?
Which battery lasts the longest?
How can battery power be increased?
Electric motors and their efficiency
Electric circuits, voltage, current, resistance
The strength of an electromagnet
Does the number of coil turns affect the strength of an electromagnet?
Do neater coils make a better electromagnet?
How does temperature affect the strength of an electromagnet?
How important is the metal in the core of an electromagnet?
Buzzers and bells and alarms
Radios and how they work
Jacob's ladder
The Tesla coil
A microammeter
Make an electrophorus
Make a Leyden jar
Make a Wimshurst machine
A Kelvin water dropper electrostatic generator
Generating high voltages
Measuring electrical forces
Vibration in a wire carrying AC current
Vibrations caused by an electric motor
The ionisation of air and van de Graaff generators
Electrical discharges
Electrostatic effects in liquids
Gas-discharge tubes
Glow discharges
High voltage generation
Negative resistance phenomena
Operational amplifiers
Practical uses of the Hall effect
The Van de Graaff electrostatic generator
Does a flame conduct electricity?
The conductivity of a solution
Eddy current heating
Making a theremin

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Retina patterns
Schlieren photography
Moiré fringes as measuring devices
Assessing colour vision in animals
Tape glow in different brands
The stroboscope
Colour theories
Colours on waves and in thin films
Producing a hologram
Production of diffraction gratings
Refraction of light by an unstirred sugar solution
The optics of thin films
Floaters in the eye
Optical interference
Thin-film interference
Anamorphic art
Animal colour preferences
Tyndall figures
Tyndall scattering and the sunset
Lenses: curvature and materials
How can the strength of light be measured?
What affects light reflection?
What affects refraction and diffraction of light?
Spectrum and colour production prisms
Birefringence in nature
Bunsen's other inventions
Designing a good photometer
A Fresnel lens for 3 cm rays/
Photonics and fibre optics
Transmission of light through perspex

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Photographing the moon
Solar photography
Lunar eclipses
Photography of a lunar eclipse
Photography of a solar eclipse
The Geissler tube
The angle of a meteor strike and crater shape
The orrery and its design

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Radiation and radio-activity

The natural radioactivity of rocks
The velocity of particles from americium-241
A scintillation counter
Absorption of alpha radiation by different materials
Variations in the range of alpha-particles in air at low pressure
Reproducing Hertz's first radio experiment
Use a radio to detect meteors and meteor showers
Make an electronic lightning detector
A Wilson cloud chamber
A working Geiger counter
Making a cosmic ray detector
The back-scattering of beta particles
The effect of wearing a hat on ultra violet light exposure
Ultraviolet light and different roofing materials
Ultra violet absorption, transmission and reflection by water
How does different clothing absorb ultra-violet light?
How effective are different sun screens?
Do any local plants or seaweeds block UV radiation?

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Other Physics

What controls the period of a pendulum?
The physics of the torsion pendulum
The physics of a chaotic pendulum
Coupled pendula
The Wilberforce pendulum
Damping oscillations in liquids
The dashpot method of damping
Forced oscillations in mechanical resonating systems
A pendulum clock
The acceleration due to gravity in different places
Aerodynamics of falling objects
Do all objects fall to the ground at the same speed?
Does water temperature influence the flight of a water powered rocket?
How do streamer designs affect the free fall of a model rocket?
How do parachute designs affect the free fall of a model rocket?
How does shape and size affect the free fall and impact of an object?
Galileo's cannonball and musketball dropping experiment
Using a water trough as an accelerometer
The Cavendish apparatus for measuring gravitation
A super-sensitive manometer
Brownian motion
Why do tops wobble?
Celt stones
Skipping stones
The Doppler shift
The Marangoni effect
The physics of balloons
Helium molecules escaping from a rubber balloon
The bursting of a balloon
Internal pressure and the performance of a football
Vacuum pumps
The physics of amusement park rides
Glass fractures
Leidenfrost phenomena
Lichtenberg figures
Lissajous figures made electronically
Lissajous figures made with a pendulum
Lissajous figures with tuning forks and mirrors
Maxwell's demon
Osmotic pumps
What is the effect of concentration of a solute on osmosis?
What is the effect of temperature of a solution on osmosis?
Ripple tank design
Velocity of ripples in a ripple tank
Effect of wavelength on the angle of refraction of water ripples
Chimney plumes
Fractures and fracture patterns
Fraunhofer patterns
Fresnel zones
Friction effects
How is friction related to surface area and texture?
Friction and surface texture
Friction of shoe soles
Friction reduction by oil and grease
Variation of friction with the relative velocity of two bodies in contact
Surface coverings and rolling marble speeds
Does a ball-roll farther on grass or dirt?
Glass blowing
Air pressure
Water pressure
Variations on the Cartesian diver
The internal combustion engine
Convection patterns
The uses of heat convection
How we use the radiation of heat
The effect of cooling fins
What are the best materials for insulation?
The insulating properties of different fabrics
Which insulation works best?
Which material is the best home insulator?
What materials provide the best insulation?
What keeps things colder - plastic wrap or aluminium foil?
Comparing various natural fibres as insulating materials
Does fat insulate an animal?
Maxwell's spot
Isotope experiments
Kanizsa figures
The McCollough effect
The Pockels effect
How much does glass absorb electromagnetic waves?
The absorption spectra of different plant pigments
How much do different foods absorb microwaves?
How do different surfaces absorb radiant heat?
Measurement of water vapour by microwave absorption
Microwave ranging and detection

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Mathematical applications

Fractals in nature
The fractal dimensions of ants' random paths
The effect of different types of music on people
Labyrinths, mazes, and their solutions
Mathematical machines
How random are random numbers?
Do some Lotto numbers pay more than others?
Tangram compositions
Tiling with Penrose tiles
Using Fourier transforms
The patterns in triangular numbers
The patterns in Pascal's triangle""
Examples of the Fibonacci series in nature
Approximating pi by experiment
Handedness in helical cords
The mathematics of knots
Why recreational mathematics is useful

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Gears, efficiencies, different lubricants
Lubrication with graphite
Which homemade aeroplane design flies best?
Which paper aeroplane design flies the longest time?
Which type of lawn sprinkler works best?
The Coanda effect
Improving the efficiency of a rudder
Designing an energy-efficient home
Efficient use of renewable energy resources
Determine the accuracy of various thermometers
Specific heats
Principle of energy conservation
Active and passive solar energy systems
Measuring the efficiency of airscrews
Making an electrical weighing machine
Making and calibrating a strain gauge
The reliable measurement of paper thickness
Applications of the pantograph
Concrete hydration
How strong is a brick?
Which beam design makes the strongest truss?
Which beam design supports the most stress?
Which truss design supports the most weight?
Which truss design supports the most compressional stress?
Designing a strong bridge
Which bridge design will support the most weight?
Which building design best withstands an earthquake?
Which folded paper structure will support the most stress?

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Earth science

How large is the earth?
How much does the earth weigh?
How far away are the sun and the moon?
A geological stream table
Sedimentation and how it varies
Using a laser beam to measure the sediment in water
The settlement of particles from aqueous suspensions
How salt settles clay minerals from a suspension
How turbid does the water get after rain, and why?
How long does a harbour stay turbid after rain?
How do the sand grains vary on a single beach?
How do the pebbles vary on a beach?
When in the tide are pebbles deposited on a beach?
How do the sand grains vary on nearby beaches?
Zircons in sand and sandstone
Do desert sand grains differ from beach sand grains?
How much of beach sand is shell grit?
How much of beach sand is organic matter?
What determines the slope of a beach?
How does slope angle and soil depth influence erosion rates?
What is the angle of rest in different dry sands?
The stability of slopes derived from different rock types
The formation of sand dunes
Wave groups on a beach
Wave patterns in a tidal inlet
The behaviour of large waves in a narrow channel

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What happens when snow melts?
What does melted snow contain?
How much life is going on, under the snow?
Why does the sky colour change at different times
The common wind patterns in your area
What makes flags flap in the wind?
Cloud formation, altitude, and temperature
How do clouds relate to weather patterns?
Wind speed and direction at different heights
The speed and force of raindrops
The effect of rain on soil, with and without ground cover
Does fresh water hold heat longer than salt water?
What factors affect the cooling of land at night?
The sunlight reflected and absorbed by different surfaces
Measuring the sunshine available each day
The humidity at different temperatures
The difference between sun and shade temperatures
An automatic recording weather device
Human hair and changing humidity?
How does human hair compare with other animals' hair?
Materials that expand and contract in changing humidity
An electronic barograph with a digital output

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Optical activity
Optical isomers and their structures
Oscillating chemical reactions
Shape-memory alloys
Stacking schemes and crystals
Make some pure elements from natural materials
The effects of temperature on the viscosity of oil
What type of oil has the greatest viscosity?
How can the viscosity of an oil be increased?
What type of oil has the greatest density?
The effects of temperature on chemical reactions
The effects of temperature on Brownian movement
Concentration and the rate of chemical reactions
The chemicals in cosmetics
Testing of consumer products
Effects of sunlight on rubber, ink, paper
Chemical reactions that produce or require energy
An automatically operating burette
Can conductivity identify the end-point of a titration?
Temperature change and the end-point in a titration
Temperature zones in a flame
The pH levels in a human mouth through the day
Compare the surface tension of various liquids
How does the adhesion to glass vary in different liquids?
How do different substances affect the adhesion of water to glass?
Does temperature or pressure affect adhesion in water?
How do different substances affect the surface tension of water?
Water rise up polymer threads
Absorption of liquids by filter paper
What is the average size of soap bubbles?
How thick is a soap film?
Shapes and oscillations of large soap bubbles
Soap foams
Why do soap films burst ?
Making giant bubbles
Making long-lasting bubbles
Do soap bubbles last longer on warm or cold days?
Bubbles with strange shapes
Factors affecting the production of uniform bubble rafts
Formation and bursting of soap bubbles
Bumping and boiling in different liquids
How do bubbles change when rising?
Dealing with chemical spills from industry
How thick is an oil film on water?
Which methods are best for dealing with oil spills?
Analyzing snow and rain for pollutants
Effects of temperature on density of gases
Effects of salt and other contaminants on the rate of rusting
Do all iron objects rust at the same rate?
How effective are rust inhibitors?
Which metals corrode more quickly in water?
Corrosion and the cathodic protection of metals
Making a corrosion map of your area
How does salt affect the corrosion of iron and steel?
Developing a defence against iron corrosion
Which coins are most affected by standing in vinegar?
Growing double crystals
Crystals from household products
Solution temperature and crystal growth
Do sugar crystals grow faster in tap water or distilled water?
Does temperature affect crystal growth?
Does the concentration of solute affect the rate of crystal growth?
Getting water from ink, vinegar, milk?
Exercise and carbon dioxide production
Soil samples and their properties
Particle pollution in my area
The types of particle in pollution fallout
Catalysts and their uses
How fire extinguishers work
How acids react with different metals
Identifying different metals by the flame test
Ordering metals by activity, from potassium to gold
How does electroplating work?
What metals can be used in electroplating?
What industrial methods are used in electroplating?
What are the practical applications of electroplating?
The extraction of caffeine from beverages
The measurement of caffeine in beverages

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Consumer science

How is paint drying affected by temperature changes?
How is paint drying affected by humidity?
Is oil stain or paint more durable to weathering?
Which battery lasts longest?
Which house plant fertiliser works best?
Which pens can write on all surfaces?
Which pens will write upside down?
Which brand of pen lasts the longest?
How much writing can be done by one pen?
Which socks are warmest in winter?
Which glue sticks best?
Compare the water content of some foods
What is the fat content of various sausages?
Which foods contain the most carbohydrates?
Which foods contain the most protein?
Comparing the sugar content of different juices
Which type of food contains most thermal energy?
How hard are different nail polishes?
How effective are various shampoos?
How effective are various hair sprays?
A comparison of biodegradable detergents
Which detergent makes the most suds?
The effects of freezing on bacteria
Do different colours of light affect bacterial growth?
The effect of ultraviolet light on bacteria
Does soap kill bacteria?
Do disinfectants really kill bacteria?
The effect of spices on bacterial growth
Does garlic have antibacterial properties?
Will fungi inhibit bacterial growth?
Does mouthwash kill bacteria?
Can trace amounts of heavy metals kill bacteria?
The effects of antibiotics on bacterial growth
Does mouthwash damage higher life forms?
Should we use antibacterial wipes in our homes?
Does washing your hands stop the spread of bacteria?
Which brand of garbage bag can hold the most sand without tearing?
Which density of plastic bag has the best impact strength?
Which brand of napkin (diaper) absorbs the most moisture?
The absorption rate of different brands of paper towels
Which toilet paper is strongest?
Is there a relationship between types of paper and their strength?
Do all papers of the same type have the same strength?
Is recycled paper as strong as paper in its first use?
How many times are packaging materials recycled?
How good are bricks made of earth?
How effective are oven cleaners?
Will Coca Cola really rot teeth?
Does temperature affect the results of a soft drink challenge?
Does price predict the effectiveness of sunblock?
Which home smoke detector is the most sensitive?
Which engine oil reduces friction the most?
Which home insulation system works best?
Which self-adhesive floor tile resists wear the most?
Which building material is most flammable?
The flammability of various fabrics
Making fabrics fire resistant

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How effective is aquaculture?
What conditions are favourable for growing brine shrimp?
How do some Aedes mosquito larvae live in brine?
Do magnetic fields harm any life forms?
Why don't fish get washed downstream over time?
The swimming motions of different fish
A better way to view aquatic animals and plants
Why don't spiders eat fruit?
Breeding spiders
Collecting spider webs
Spider thread
Culturing aquatic insects
Learning in the slater/woodlouse/sow bug
Ant pheromones and how they are used
Snail breeding
What is the effect of temperature on respiration in snails?
What is the effect of temperature on yeast in dough?
The effect of temperature on yeast growth in a culture
The effects of ultraviolet radiation on yeast fermentation
What factors affect the production of carbon dioxide in yeast?
What factors affect the growth of yeast?
The effect of temperature on the action of yeast
How do different animals breathe?
Do the songs of a bird species vary from place to place?
How are the colours on butterfly wings formed?
How are the colours of beetles formed?
What makes the colour in a feather?
Why do large birds have a slotted wing?
How birds and insects hover
Bioelectrical senses in animals
Animals which give electric shocks
Detecting electric signals made by animals
Measuring the metabolism of insects
Measuring the metabolic rates of small animals

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Why don't potatoes or trees need lungs?
Why are seeds the shapes they are?
What are the advantages of having a leaf that is divided?
What influences the shape of a leaf?
The spiralling flight paths of different winged seeds
How far do the seeds from a plant travel?
How far can weed seeds penetrate into a forest from a road?
What influences the rate of transpiration in corn seeds?
Plant tropisms
How does light intensity affect phototropism in plants?
Do the roots of a plant always grow downward?
Does it matter in which direction seeds are planted?
Sensitive plants
How fast do carnivorous plants move?
How much weight can a growing plant lift?
How do physical vibrations affect plant growth?
Plant growth and ultrasonic vibrations
Does music help plants grow?
Extracting growth-promoting substances
Plant growth inhibitors
Antibiotics from the soil
Antibiotic effects in lichens
Resistance to antibiotics in common bacteria
Using plant extracts to control the growth of bacteria
The planting depth of wheat and germination
Does temperature affect the growth of plants?
Does a plant need some darkness to grow?
The effect of photoperiodism on plants
What colour of light do plants grow best in?
How does light direction affect plant growth?
How much does the duration of light affect plant growth?
Do different kinds of lights affect the way plants grow?
What affect does the gibberellic acid have on plant growth?
Can plants grow without soil?
What is the effect of different soils on plant growth?
The effect of different fertilisers on plant growth
Do plants grow better in hydroponics or in soil?
What minerals are needed for plants to grow?
The effects of iron on plant growth
What is the best spacing for plants?
Is compost better than manufactured fertilisers?
Does sugar in a vase make cut flowers last longer?
Do living plants give off moisture?
Which soil type is best for plant growth?
Do plants need air?
Monocot and dicot germination patterns
How does heat affect germination rates in seeds?
How does light affect germination rates in seeds?
How does carbon dioxide affect germination rates?
How does pH level affect germination rates in seeds?
Soil, tree seedlings and germination rates
How does a magnetic field affect plant growth?
Does magnetism affect seed germination?
Does microwave radiation affect the rate of seeds' germination?
Does seed size affect the rate of germination?
Does the presence of light affect the germination rate of seeds?
Does centripetal force affect the germination of seeds?
How does centripetal force affect plant growth?
Does X-ray radiation affect the rate of seeds' germination?
How does temperature affect seed germination?
Earthworms and the germination and growth of seeds
How much pressure do germinating seeds produce?
The rate of seed germination in different soil types
The effect of heat on seed viability
The effect of mechanical impact on seed viability
What is the effect of planting depth on the germination of seeds?
What substances are natural inhibitors of seed germination?
Photosynthesis and temperature
Photosynthesis and light intensity
Photosynthesis and water availability
Photosynthesis and carbon dioxide levels
Photosynthesis and the colour of the light
The number and size of stomates in different plants
Covering a leaf's stomate
Does soil pH affect plant growth?
Does noise affect the growth of plants?
Soil water-holding capacity and the plants growing in it
Do packet seeds germinate better than ones collected at home?
How much salinity can tomato plants take?
Which plants can withstand the most salt in the water sprayed on them?
Is hydroponics as good as growing in soil?
Do microwaves affect seed germination and growth?
Does smoke trigger germination in bush plants?
How much water is used by different plants?
What is the effect of temperature, sunlight on transpiration?
How does soil type influence vegetation distribution?
How do different types of soils affect the stability of trees?
What kind of soil is best for certain kinds of plants?
What determines where mosses grow?
What effect does water have on root growth?
What effect does oxygen have on root growth?
What effect does soil type have on root growth?
What effect do minerals have on root growth?
The effect of on plant growth/crop yield
The effect of nutrients on plant growth/crop yield
The effect of water on plant growth/crop yield
The effect of hours of sunlight on plant growth/crop yield
The effect of strength of weed killer on plant growth/crop yield
The effect of temperature on plant growth or yield
The effect of pollutants on plant growth/crop yield
The effect of soil pH on plant growth/crop yield
The effect of pest animals on crop yield
How much water does a 1 kg yield of different crops need?
How much of various plants is water?
The size of a plant and the amount of water it uses
What conditions are favourable for fungus growth?
What conditions are favourable for mushroom production?
What conditions are favourable for algae growth?
Algal culture methods
What conditions favour bacteria growth or control?
What conditions favour mutations?
What conditions favour striking cuttings?
What conditions favour the survival of planarian worms?
What conditions favour the growth of nitrogen fixing bacteria?
What conditions are favourable for lichen growth?
How are lichens influenced by pollution?
How fast do lichens normally grow?

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Field Studies

The rate of decomposition of leaf litter
The changes in a rock pool across a day
What are the effects of herbicide spraying?
Does bush regeneration make a difference?
Is there acid rain in nearby lakes?
Ammonia and pH in a local stream
How does the pH in a swamp change over time?
How does the pH in different parts of a swamp?
The pH in a water body and weather changes
The effect of vehicle exhausts on roadside plants
The effect of SO2 emissions on plants
What types of bacteria are found around the home?
What types of bacteria are found on the body?
What types of bacteria are found in soil of different types?
How do protozoa react to changes in the environment?
The preferred soil pH level for various plants

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The connections between hair and eye colour?
Do bigger seeds produce bigger plants?
What determines the number of seeds in an apple?
Is there a link between sex and left handedness?
Is the tasting of cabbage or broccoli inherited?
Is a hatred of cabbage inherited or learned?
Are all the pea seeds in a pod the same size?
Do apple cores contain the same number of seeds?
Do seeds of the same type germinate at the same rate?
Is there a link between hair colour and strength?
Undertake a family study on inheritance
Do brothers and sisters have similar fingerprints?
Do parents and children have similar fingerprints?
Extract the DNA from an onion, or other plant
Are the variable leaf patterns in clover inherited?
How alike are the peas in a pod?
How easily do plants hybridise?
Do related plants form a graft more easily?

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Information fossicking/history of science

Click here to jump to the help file

How did the elements get their symbols?
Scientists who gave their names to things
Twenty plants or animals with really odd names
Who named the minerals?
How does an epidemiologist work?
The idea of atoms
How do we know that atoms are real?
A hundred years of quantum physics
A hundred years of genetics


Help: Animal posters and displays

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How my favourite animal moves

Think about bird flight, a snake on sand, fast and slow fish, sharks, turtles, earthworms, snails, flatworms, centipedes and millipedes, video and slow motion filming, horses, dogs, cats and humans travelling slow or fast . . .

Key word(s) to search on: leg, wing, fin, locomotion

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The invertebrates people eat

Look at seafood, but also find out who ate (or eats) honey and locusts, does anybody eat spiders, then check out king crabs. Why do so many people go urk at the idea? Does anybody eat chocolate-coated cockroaches?

Key word(s) to search on: invertebrate, scampi, prawn, oyster, escargot, lobster, calamari, octopus, "yellowjacket soup"

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Insects: good or bad?

Look at whether insects are a problem for us, and what would we do without them. How would your garden smell with no ants? How long does it take ants to clear up a piece of meat? Insect pollinators, insects that make useful food, and so on. Key word(s) to search on: pollination, termite, white ant

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You might look at the life cycle of a fly (fruit flies are not as "URK-ish", and biology teachers have recipes for brews to breed them in), or you might look at some of the more unusual flies, like midges. Flies are called Diptera because they only have two wings - the other two wings are there, but reduced down to a couple of tiny things like table-tennis bats, called halteres.

Key word(s) to search on: haltere, Diptera, suctorial, larva, maggot, gent, dipteran

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Mosquitoes will breed through one entire generation in a plastic soft drink bottle, but you need to prepare the water first. That means finding out what mosquito wrigglers eat. There are two sorts of mosquito: the culicine mosquitoes and the anopheline mosquitoes, but all mosquitoes are in the same order as the flies.

Put fine mesh on the top of the container, and put a small twiggy branch in the bottle for the adults to rest on.

Some mosquitoes spread disease, and various sorts of biological control can be used to stop mosquitoes breeding.

Key word(s) to search on: Ross, malaria, plasmodium, wriggler, tumbler, Anopheles, Culex, dengue, control

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Why are bees important to farmers? Which bees are solitary, which live in hives? Do all bees make honey? How do bees make wax? What do bees use to make honey? Why doesn't honey go rotten in the hive? How different are honeys made from different plants? Some people say oleander honey is poisonous: is this true? How does a bee sting? Why does the sting hurt? How do you treat bee stings? What is the life cycle of a bee? What makes a queen bee a queen bee? What eats bees?

Key word(s) to search on: bee, hive, queen, drone

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Not all cicadas take 17 years to go through a full cycle, but many of them take a long while, and the number of years is nearly always a prime number - why would that be? What do juvenile cicadas eat? What do adult cicadas eat? What eats cicadas? Why do cicadas 'sing' so loudly? Which cicadas sing? What makes them all stop at the same time? How loud is an individual cicada at one metre? Do cicadas react to tapes of their calls? Can you culture cicadas in captivity? How different are the vein patterns on the wings of one species? How do the vein patterns differ between species of cicada?

Key word(s) to search on: you will need to find your own.

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How do butterfly wings get their colours? Is a butterfly beautiful in close-up? How do butterfly wings form as the butterfly comes out of the cocoon? How does a moth differ from a butterfly? What did clothes moths eat before there were clothes? Can butterflies and moths hear? What eats the adults? What do adult moths and butterflies eat? How are the colours in the wings created?

Key word(s) to search on: you will need to find your own.

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How do ants sting? Are any ants of commercial value? What would life be like if there were no ants? How do you keep ants in captivity? Fire ants, Argentine ants, and other 'foreign' ants. How do ants lay down and follow trails? Do ants specialise in what they eat? Ant farmers. Ant farms. How did chemists make formic acid in the past? Do ant-eaters eat ants? What eats ants? Why do some birds 'ant' themselves? How far do ants go from their nests?

Tracking ants will mean finding ways to mark them, and you should probably read the books of Henri Fabre first.

Key word(s) to search on: pheromones, Formidicae, formic acid

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How do wasps sting? Which wasps live together? What is the difference between wasps and hornets? How do 'paper wasps' make their paper? How do digger wasps find their way back to their holes?

Key word(s) to search on: Nikko Tinbergen, wasp, maybe ethology.

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Stick insects

What do stick insects eat? How big do stick insects get? How do stick insects behave when they are under threat? How many species are there? How long do they live?

Key word(s) to search on: phasmids

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Why don't spiders eat carrots? How many ways do spiders have of catching their food? How does an orb weaver make its web? How does a spider that lives in the ground dig its hole? Did you know you can find spiders at night by holding a torch (that's a flashlight to some people) close to your ear, pointing ahead, and looking for the glow from the spiders' eyes? How high can a jumping spider jump? How far can it jump? Which spiders eat other spiders? What else eats spiders?

Key word(s) to search on:

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There are standard methods for building an observation container for earthworms, called a wormery. You may be able to research how to breed earthworms, or why they are important, or how they breed. You could try to find out how fast earthworms grow, or how long they live. Key word(s) to search on: wormery, Lumbricus,

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Earthworms and soil

You might choose to investigate how many worms there are in the top 10 cm of a square metre of soil, or you might just mark out a square metre of very short grass (why?), flood it with a garden hose, and count how many worms come to the surface. Key word(s) to search on:

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Primitive animals

Hints and suggestions: What were animals like in the past? You might like to look at things in the age of dinosaurs, or you might decide to look at the life forms from Australia's Ediacara or the Canadian Burgess Shale. You could also decide to look at the animals which are around today that are little changed from ancient animals, and why scientists think they have not changed. Sometimes scientists cannot agree on these things, and that can make an interesting study as well.

Key word(s) to search on: Ediacara, Burgess Shale,

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Prehistoric animals

Hints and suggestions: Anybody can do dinosaurs, but prehistory is anything more than about 4000 years old. So what about the prehistoric animals of Australia, like Thylacoleoand Megalania? Then there is the aurochs, although the last one of those died in historic times. Think about mammoths, too, and Diprotodon, and giant kangaroos, and horned turtles called Meiolania

Key word(s) to search on: megafauna, or any of the names above.

The age of reptiles

Hints and suggestions: When was that age? Most people would say Jurassic because they have been watching certain movies. But is that the best period to choose? You decide.

Key word(s) to search on: dinosaur, therapsid (Therapsida), synapsid (Synapsida), individual dinosaur names, Jurassic, Triassic, snake, crocodile, crocodilian, lizard, tuatara, monitor, skink

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Biological control methods

Hints and suggestions: There are good and bad stories to tell here: In Australia, Cactoblastis and the prickly pear is a good one, the cane toad was a bad one. Myxomatosis and calcivirus were used on rabbits in Australia.

Key word(s) to search on: any of the terms mentions above, biological control.

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Birds in my garden

Hints and suggestions: What birds come into your garden? How do they behave? Do they squabble with other birds of their own species, or with birds of other species? What do they eat? What is special about them? What calls do they make?

Key word(s) to search on: bird, garden, attract, , bird garden, (attract NEAR bird)

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The care and feeding of birds

Hints and suggestions: There are plenty of books about feeding cage birds, but what is a good diet to offer to wild birds, to attract them to your garden, and what are the things to avoid?

Key word(s) to search on: honey-eater, bird garden, (bird AND (nutrition OR food)), aviculture, (attract NEAR bird),

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Parts of a bird

Hints and suggestions: You might decide to assemble an entire chicken skeleton from a bird you have eaten, or you might want to concentrate on where birds have their ears and noses, or you could even do a dissection of a bird, to display its organs. You could also work on feathers, or how the feathers are arranged on a wing.

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Migration of birds

Hints and suggestions: Which birds migrate in and out of your area, and when? How do they find their way around, how far do they travel, and do they arrive on a predictable day, or does it depend on the weather in some way?

Key word(s) to search on: koel, cuckoo, swallow, mutton bird, shearwater, pelican, migratory bird, goose, geese, sandpiper

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Parts of a hen's egg

Hints and suggestions: You might like to make a model, or maybe you could do this as a photo-essay. There is more to an egg than yolk and albumen. You might also decide to try to find out why some eggs have double yolks, and whether this relates to something like the colour of the shell or the colour of the yolk, and whether double-yolkers tend to come in sets, as some people say they do.

Key word(s) to search on:

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Parts of a horse

Hints and suggestions: The hoof of a horse is actually a toe, but how do you explain this to somebody else. How can you tell a crupper from a fetlock, and does it matter? Think about a model or a chart.

Key word(s) to search on: horse, equine, anatomy, hock, fetlock etc.

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Rats are eating your food

Hints and suggestions: How much of the food we grow is eaten by pests before it gets to the table? How much of the food we eat has already been eaten by a pest? (Hint: try to find out the legal limit for rat or mouse droppings or fecal pellets in wheat or flour.)

Key word(s) to search on: legal limit, rat, dropping, fecal OR faecal, pests, rodents,

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Hints and suggestions: Marsupials come in many shapes and sizes. Some eat meat, some eat plants, some live underground, some live in trees, some of them can even glide from tree to tree. They are found in North and South America, and all over Australia, while Australian possums are a pest in New Zealand. Female marsupials have a pouch (but do all of them have one?), but how would you recognise a male marsupial? People in Europe say that marsupials only survived in Australia because the island continent gave them protection against the 'superior' placental mammals. Australian zoologists say this is reminiscent of a dingo's kidneys: collect the evidence, and se who is right.

Key word(s) to search on: marsupial, marsupium, pouch, kangaroo, wallaby, wallaroo, bilby, possum, opossum, numbat, wombat, koala, Gondwanaland

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Hints and suggestions: Where do koalas live, what do they eat, why are they so slow, why is their brain so small? How do they breed, where are they under threat, and what from, and how well are they doing? What are the differences between southern and northern koalas? What are their closest relatives, and what does this have to do with the way a female koala's pouch is arranged?

Key word(s) to search on: koala, Chlamydia, Eucalyptus, wet bottom, Phascolarctos, marsupial

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Hints and suggestions: Where do possums live, what do they eat, which ones are under threat and why, and why are there so many different species. How do gliding possums glide? What can be done to keep a population of possums, and can they be kept in captivity? What diseases do possums have, and what eats them?

Key word(s) to search on: possum, phalanger, ringtail, brushtail, glider

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Hints and suggestions: What is the difference between a kangaroo, a wallaroo, and a wallaby? How do tree kangaroos compare with other kangaroos? If we are going to eat meat, would kangaroo meat be better for us, or for the environment? What would be the problems in farming kangaroos? What was the biggest kangaroo? Where do kangaroos live, and what do they eat?

Key word(s) to search on: kangaroo, macropod, euro, potoroo

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Hints and suggestions: Where do bandicoots live, what do they eat, where are they under threat and what from, and how can you tell a bandicoot dig from a rabbit dig in the ground. What are the closest relatives of the bandicoot?

Key word(s) to search on: bandicoot, bilby, Macrotis,

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Hints and suggestions: Dingoes are wild Australian dogs, but when did they first arrive in Australia? What do dingoes eat? What domestic dogs have a dingo strain in them? Do dingoes make good pets? Most dingoes have interbred with domestic dogs; where can you still see pure-bred dingoes? There was an account of a dingo taking a baby in the 1840s: can you find it, and can you find any other accounts before the Chamberlain case? Why is it dangerous to feed dingoes?

Key word(s) to search on: "Mrs Meredith", dingo, breed OR bred, baby, origin, warrigal

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Rabbits as pests

Hints and suggestions: Who brought rabbits to Australia in 1788, and why were those rabbits not a pest? Who brought the pest rabbits, and when? How can rabbits be controlled?

Key word(s) to search on: Phillip Island, rabbit, calicivirus, myxomatosis

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Feral cats

Hints and suggestions: Some people say that the first Australian feral cats came from a Dutch ship, long before whites arrived on Australia's north coast, but whenever they arrived, cats have not stopped laying waste to the Australian wildlife ever since. This applies to both domestic cats, even the ones with bells, and also to feral cats, which are usually bigger and heavier. Are feral cats as much of a problem in other parts of the world? Why or why not?

Key word(s) to search on: cat, feral

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Hints and suggestions: Brumbies are Australian wild or feral horses, and there are several explanations of the name. Find out what these are. Where are brumbies found, and are they good or bad for the environment? How are mobs of brumbies organized, and how do they behave when humans get too close?

There is a lot of argument about how brumbies should be culled, and some people even say they should not be culled at all. What do you think?

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Help: Research: history of science

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Scientists who gave their names to things

Scientists, you will be glad to know, also like to be remembered, but real scientists do not name things after themselves: they just hope that somebody else will. There is usually a story behind each one.

Key word(s) to search on: Bode's law, Zeno's paradox, Kipps' apparatus, Wimshurst machine, Boyle's law, Avogadro's hypothesis, Goldbach's conjecture, Celsius scale and so on . . .

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Twenty plants or animals with really odd names

Scientists, you will be glad to know, are normal human beings with normal senses of humour - almost. This will give you a chance to explore that hypothesis, beginning with the naming of the animals and plants. Remember your audience, and do not include any that may give offence.

Key word(s) to search on: Cuttysarkus, Abra cadabra,or Montypythonoides,or look at on the Web and find some other terms to search for from there.

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Who named the minerals?

Some mineral names are traditional like graphite, which means the mineral you can write with, but others are more recent, and there is often a story that attaches to each one. Anthracite, a form of coal, comes from anthrax, the Greek name for charcoal, with the -ite ending that identifies a mineral, while andalusite and aragonite probably came from Spain (why?), but sillimanite was probably named after a Mr. or Ms Silliman.

Key word(s) to search on: use any of the example names above and search on those names AND (origin OR derivation)

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How does an epidemiologist work?

When there is an outbreak of cholera, Ebola, or some other fearsome disease, it is the task of the epidemiologist to explain how and why it is happening, but how do they do it. Track down some case studies, and put the story up in an entertaining way. Explain the logic, the mathematics, and the other tools that epidemiologists use.

Key word(s) to search on: Center for Disease Control (CDC), Atlanta, cholera, plague, malaria, John Snow, Pasteur, Koch, Goldberger AND pellagra.

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The idea of atoms

Where did the idea of atoms come from? They were around for a long while before John Dalton, and many poets speak of atoms. Try using electronic texts from Project Gutenberg to see what different poets said about atoms, and make these up into a time line, together with the main discoveries about the structure of atoms that have happened in the last hundred years. Wrap this all up into an informative display.

Key word(s) to search on: Project Gutenberg, Democritus, atom, molecule, Avogadro, Blake

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How do we know that atoms are real?

We talk about atoms every day, but at least one famous chemist, up until the First World war, argued that there was no need to assume that atoms were real. They were a handy way to think about things, and if we assumed that atoms were real, it made calculations and predictions easier, but maybe atoms were like the ether, a convenient fiction that people could use.

So what evidence is there for atoms, and more importantly, what evidence can you offer that proves atoms are real? Can you measure or weigh atoms with an apparatus that you make?

Key word(s) to search on: Ostwald, Perrin, Brownian motion, Einstein, atom, molecule, monomolecular film, mass spectrometer, isotopes

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Copyright © Peter Macinnis, 2001. All rights reserved, subject to the educational permissions set out elsewhere. (Short version: teachers and students may copy freely. They may not copy this and present it as their own work.)

See also my timeline of Australian science and technology for ideas.


The latest Acrobat Reader version of this file is always stored at while a Web version is always at The PDF file is about 62k, and prints onto 22 pages in two columns of small print, and it has most of the topics listed here.

Help files are being slowly produced: check the Web version of this document or for the latest information on progress

Most of the help and other support material will exist first as commercially published e-books. See for the latest information on progress, and on where to go to get this as an e-book for use on most handheld readers, and how to get a reader that will let you read it on your PC. Note that Microsoft Reader's .lit format is no longer supported.

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This version was produced on June 17, 2005, last amended May 13, 2018 when Icleaned up a few dodgy links. If you are thinking of writing to me to ask for help, read what I have said here first. I am usually starting or finishing off a book, so unless your question is interesting, I am likely to ignore it. Sorry, but that's how it is. I don't help people choose a project that is what this page is for. If you have an interesting question about how to proceed, I will try to help, but my time is limited.

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This page has had hits since it was started on May 1, 2000. There were about 36,000 hits in the first year. I changed counters on January 21, 2007, picking up the old total of 2,961,093 and adding it in.