science fair

From start to finish, Carolina can help you find biology, ecology, and physical science and engineering investigations.

Stressed about an upcoming science fair? You’re not alone. Carolina product managers often answer questions about potential projects from anxious parents, students, and teachers. We have the help you need, whether you’re looking for biology, ecology, or physical science and engineering projects.

Biology Investigations

Students, parents, or teachers usually want suggestions for small, easy-to-maintain organisms that a student will find interesting and like to use in an experiment. We can help you get started and finish successfully.

Pro tips for all investigations with live organisms:

Also Read: Care Guides for Living Organisms

Daphnia (water fleas)

Known for their jerking movement through water, Daphnia are ideal specimens for physiological exercises and toxicity tests. The organisms are filter feeders that exhibit behavior in the laboratory setting very similar to their natural behavior. Though they are known as water fleas, Daphnia are not related to the terrestrial flea.

Daphnia reproduce asexually and sexually, but under ideal environmental conditions most populations will consist of only females. When conditions become too stressful (e.g., food shortage, poor water quality, extremes in temperature, and overcrowding), males are produced and sexual reproduction will begin to take place.

These organisms require special care. See Daphnia Living Care Information for complete care instructions.

Pro tips for Daphnia:

  • Use Daphnia cultures in experiments within 24 hours of receiving them.
  • Use only spring water or filtered pond water with daphnia.
  • Raise daphnia at room temperature away from direct sunlight.
  • Daphnia magna is larger than Daphnia pulex and therefore easier to observe.

Suggested Daphnia resources:

Planaria (flatworms)

Among the simplest types of multicellular organisms, planaria are an excellent choice for regeneration studies. The black and brown varieties (Dugesia dactyligeria and Dugesia dorotocephala) are the best options, because they do not take as long as the white planaria (Dugesia morgani) to regenerate.

These self-healing organisms are highly sensitive to intense light, temperature, and pH. Therefore, it is important to not make any drastic changes to these environmental factors once you begin experimentation. When you receive your planaria, do not feed them for the first week. After that period, feed them foods such as fresh beef liver, hard-boiled egg yolk, Lumbriculus, and pieces of earthworm.

Pro tips for planaria:

  • Keep them in a shallow dish of spring water (not tap water).
  • Change the water daily.
  • Do not feed them the first week after receipt.
  • Avoid changes to environmental factors.
  • View the Planaria Living Care Information for complete care instructions.

Suggested planaria resources:

Lumbriculus (blackworms)

Lumbriculus variegatus, a common freshwater annelid, is an excellent alternative to planaria for regeneration studies and water-quality projects. The blackworms are hardy and easy to raise either at home or in the classroom.

Pro tips for blackworms:

  • Keep them in spring water.
  • Blackworms can survive bouts of irregular feeding or long periods of starvation.
  • View the Lumbriculus Care Sheet for complete care instructions.

Suggested blackworm experiments:

Drosophila (fruit flies)

Students with an understanding of genetics and an eye for detail will find that Drosophila melanogaster, the common fruit fly, offers challenging and interesting project ideas. Subjects can be as simple as the fruit fly life cycle or as complex as sex-linked inheritance of traits.

The laboratory-raised cultures are easy to use and require few supplies for handling and rearing. Results can be obtained in a reasonable amount of time. Within a week of receiving your culture, you can expect to see the F1 generation emerge. After crossing the F1 generation, the F2 generation should appear within 2 weeks. You will have your choice of several phenotypes, including wing structure, eye pigmentation, and body coloration. We have even developed flightless strains, so parents and teachers need not fear they will be overrun with black clouds of fruit flies.

The correct materials can make your work less complicated. For instance, FlyNap® prepares flies more safely than ever before.

Pro tips for Drosophila:

  • Easy Fly® cultures drastically reduce the prelab preparation time.
  • A typical Drosophila lab involving crosses requires over 5 weeks.
  • View the Drosophila Living Care Information for complete care instructions.

Suggested Drosophila experiment:

Terrestrial isopods (pill bugs and sow bugs)

Commonly mistaken for insects, these relatives of lobsters and crayfish are perfect for behavioral investigations. The isopods most often used for classroom studies are Armadillidium vulgare (pill bug or roly-poly) and Porcellio laevis (sow bug).

Isopods can live in almost any plastic container, provided there is a layer of moist soil covered with dead leaves, twigs, mulch, or bark. A chunk of raw potato or apple can serve double duty by providing both food and moisture. The habitat must be kept moist—but not soaking wet—because the specimens obtain the oxygen they need through gill-like structures found on the bottom of their legs.

These organisms are not big fans of light, so your terrarium or plastic container should be kept in a dimly lit area. Under normal conditions isopods move about slowly and feed casually; however, there is a noticeable shift in their behavior when changes are made to moisture, temperature, light, and touch stimuli.

Pro tips for isopods:

Wisconsin Fast Plants®

These quick-developing Brassica rapa plants are excellent for use in many studies, particularly examinations of plant life cycles, inheritance of stem or leaf color, and maternal inheritance.

They go from seed to seed in about 40 to 55 days, depending on experimental conditions. The plants grow quickly, emerging from a specially formulated soil in 2 to 3 days, and are ready for pollination at 11 to 14 days. They require a 24-hour light source provided by cool, white fluorescent bulbs; a constant water source; and consistent warm temperatures.

There are several traits to choose from, including expression of purple coloration (anthocyanin), leaf hairs, yellow-green leaves, and dwarfism.

Many supplies are reusable and inexpensive to replace. For project ideas and seed descriptions, visit our resources and the Wisconsin Fast Plants® website.

Pro tips for Wisconsin Fast Plants®:

Wrapping up biological experiments

Once you have tested your mastery of the scientific method, you may wonder what to do with your living specimen(s). Carolina provides living organisms for educational purposes only, and we do not advocate the release of specimens into local environments. We suggest that organisms be maintained in your classroom, donated to another classroom or your local natural science center, or disposed of humanely as a last resort. See Living Organism Care Information for the organism for disposal information.

Ecology Projects

Owl pellets

For students who have an interest in ecology, owl pellet dissections are a wonderful way to investigate predator and prey relationships, food chains, and energy transfer within a food chain. To complete a project, multiple dissections are required.

Physical Science and STEM Investigations

Some students may prefer a physical science or engineering project instead of a life science project. We can help there too.

The STEM Challenge® line of engineering kits includes single student kits that engage students in the design and engineering process. Students construct an initial prototype and then refine the prototype based on parameters they establish. Test data are analyzed, then students can build and retest as many iterations as they want. Students present design constraints, test data, revisions, and results and have the actual devices to display at the science fair.

Following are STEM Challenge® mini kits and the applicable science principles involved in each kit.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Cartesian Divers Student Mini Kit

Students investigate the principles of fluid dynamics including Pascal’s principle, hydraulics, buoyancy, fluid pressure, and fluid density with this kit. There are several variables to manipulate, including volume of water in the bottle, mass of the diver, size or volume of the diver, and even the type of fluid in the bottle. If several students are interested in this STEM design activity, you can assign the variable to manipulate.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Mousetrap Cars Student Mini Kit

Mousetrap cars may be familiar to most students, but getting them to investigate everything involved in the design of the car will probably be a new experience. Mousetrap cars are compound machines made of several simple machines that obey Newton’s laws of motion and are subject to friction. There are enough variables and derivations to supply an entire class with science fair projects.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Sound Off Student Mini Kit

Students interested in music or acoustical engineering can experiment with the properties of sound waves, their energy, and transmission. Numerous variables can be manipulated and measured.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Balloon Rockets Student Mini Kit

Students use balloon rockets to investigate Newton’s laws of motion (particularly the third law), friction, and gas laws. They can manipulate the balloon; material, construction, and size of the “sled”; and the material and construction of the track. A timer makes gathering data easy.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Boats and Buoyancy Student Mini Kit

This kit is perfect for students who like to build. Buoyancy, density, and fluid dynamics are topics they can investigate.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Chemical Rockets Student Mini Kit

Newton’s laws of motion, aerodynamics, chemical reaction kinetics, and stoichiometry are topics students apply in chemical reaction rockets. They can concentrate on the design and flight dynamics of the rocket or the chemical reaction that propels it. Supervision during experimentation is strongly recommended.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Balloon Race Cars Student Mini Kit

This automotive design project allows students to manipulate body design and mass; wheel number, size, and placement; and engine size and placement. Students can design for speed, distance, or even hauling capacity. They apply Newton’s laws, friction, and aerodynamics.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Wind Farm Student Mini Kit

Students that would like to apply engineering principles to environmental science can vary wind turbine blade design and placement to optimize power output or efficiency.

Carolina STEM Challenge®: Paint Stirrer Catapult Student Mini Kit

Classes of levers, force, and projectile motion can all be investigated using a catapult. Investigations are best completed outside. A few variables students can manipulate include placement of the fulcrum, size of the fulcrum, and mass of the projectile.

Plan for success

Proper planning is key to completing a successful science project, and we hope the information provided makes finding the right subject less complicated. If you have questions, please call us at 800.334.5551 or contact us at product@carolina.com.

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