Projects that do not follow ISEF rules will be rejected.
Note: The categories and descriptions for the Open Competition are used with permission of the Massachusetts State Science and Engineering Fair

Open Competitions

These competitions are for individual students or for teams of up to three students who have a question they would like to answer, or a curiosity about something they would like to understand. The entry is based on the attempt to answer this question or to satisfy a curiosity. Students design and conduct experiments in an attempt to answer a question, or make many observations to gain knowledge in an attempt to satisfy curiosity. Sometimes it is a mixture of both. In any case, students will record observations and try to explain all efforts made to someone else.

Entrants are expected to bring their data and other records, and a poster to display their efforts. Each team must have their own notebook, or each student on a team may keep their own notebook, If someone (such as a judge) should ask them to describe their adventure, they would need to be able to present these things.  The following are examples of questions they should be able to answer if asked.

  • What got them started, and how did they proceed?
  • What was their data and what did they learn?
  • What would they change if they did it again?

Research often can span two or more discipline areas. Making for a difficult decision when asked to place such efforts in a single category. As a general rule NHSEE would ask students and teachers to place projects based upon the category which best fits with the project original question or the final conclusion statement and not based on the tools utilized to answer the question or arrive a the final conclusion statement. One example might be a project which seeks to study the migratory pattern of moose by performing DNA sequence analysis. While this project utilizes a considerable amount of Molecular Biology the project’s question is firmly rooted in Mammalian Biology/Zoology. If you want ideas you can see what projects have been done in the past (see “View Open Competition Categories” below) or you can check out

Some categories below may require specific forms in addition to the registration forms. Be sure to complete all forms that apply to your project. Pages regarding rules for certain categories can be found in the Complete Rules and Regulations Booklet.  If your browser is Firefox, the booklet will download as a document, and you can print it.  Other browsers will take you to the booklet on line and you can print it from there.

+ View Open Competition Categories

  • Behavioral Science+ Show Examples
    • A Study of the Senses in Stress Management
    • Rat Behavior
    • Human Lie Detecting, and What to look For
    • The Effects of Polyphasic Sleep on Healthy Behavior
    • The wonders of the ant nest: Studying how ants build their nests.
    • Does Age Affect Implicit Learning?
    • The Human Reactions to Snakes
    • The Effects of Music on Fruit Flies
    • Do video games affect your I.Q.?
    • School Dress Code: The Pros and Cons
    • Lobster Aggression
    • Running to a Beat: An Investigation Into The Effects of a Beat on Stamina
    • The Effectiveness of Flash Cards vs. Computer Scripts
    • How Teaching Methods Affect the Way Students Learn
    • Hearing and the Dominance Hierarchy of Crickets
  • Biochemistry+ Show Examples
    • The effect of Mitochondria Quantity on Cell Function
    • Lipoxygenase Influence on Lipofuscin Granule Formation in Bananas
    • Decalcification of Mice Bones Using Soda
    • Effects of P1 Precursors on Virus Growth
    • Detecting Genetically Modified Foods by PCR
    • Bacterial Transformation with Lux: A Glowing Opportunity
    • Catalyzed Reactions of Enzymes
    • An Exploration of the Effects of Variables Nutrients on Epithelial Cells
    • The Smell of love
    • Adeno-associated virus (AAV) used as a gene shuttle for the protein dystrophin to help regain muscle strength in Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD.)
    • Isolation of Pre-mRNA Mutants in Saccharomyces cerevisiae
    • The effect of a virus on cancer cells
    • Allergens in Dog Saliva
    • Using a Single Nucleotide Polymorphism to Predict Bitter Tasting Ability
    • Effects of Acid On Plant Growth
  • Biology+ Show Examples
    • Studies of Light Producing Bacteria
    • Effect of Light Before and After UV Damage to E. coli
    • Generating a Vibrio fischeri Bacterial Artificial Chromosome (BAC) Library
    • Bacteria Growth in Different Substances
    • The Correlation of Normal Flora and Armpit Odor
    • What Sugars do Yeast Use?
    • Can Platies become asexual or Can They Change Gender?
    • An Investigation into the effects of the mRNA csrB and the protein CsrA on the phenotypes of v. fischeri
    • Testing the Effectiveness of Various Sunscreens Using UV Sensitive Yeast
    • The Isolation and Characterization of the Genes of Photorhabdus temperata Mutants and their Effects on Biofilm Formation
    • Which antibiotic cream works the best?
    • Bacteria are Found Everywhere, Even in the Lab…
    • Microbiological Analysis of Fast Food Hamburgers
    • The antimicrobial effects of capsaicin based on the quantification of capsaicin using the HPLC
    • The Production of Monoclonal Antibodies In Mice For Crotalus atrox Venom
    • Hydroponics vs. Aquaponics
    • The Effects of Hand Washing
    • What duration of ultraviolet light exposure kills bacteria?
    • The comparison between human saliva and dog saliva and how well they kill bacteria
    • Effect of Caffeine on Daphnia
    • Identifying Bacteria on Soda Cans, Candy Bar Wrappers, and Vegetable Cans
    • The Carcinogenicty of the Radiofrequencies of Cell Phones
  • Chemistry+ Show Examples
    • Determination of Ascorbic Acid Concentration in Orange Juice Using a Redox Reaction
    • Isolation, Purification, and Specific Rotation Determination of Ricinoleic Acid
    • Conductivity of Electrolytes
    • Does Water Purity Affect Surface Tension?
    • Effects of Food Preparation on Vitamins
    • The Ultimate Sugar High
    • Water Hardness Sudding
  • Computers+ Show Description
        A study of computer construction, programming, languages, techniques and general operations.
  • Earth & Space Science+ Show Examples
    • Gravity Current Velocities
    • Beach Sand Fluctuations and Cliff Erosion
    • Dependence of Liquefaction upon Soil Composition
    • Solar Activity and Refraction Properties of the Ionosphere
    • Jupiter’s Decametric Emission
    • Solar Activity and Geosynchronous Satellites
  • Engineering+ Show Examples
    • New category; no prior examples
  • Environmental Science+ Show Examples
    • Water Hyacinth: Primary Water Treatment?
    • Invertebrates in Kelp Holdfast
    • What Soil Conditions Best Control Soil Erosion While Assisting Growth?
    • Designing a New Home Sewer System
    • An Efficient System for Initiating Successful Garden Crops
    • Using conductance to find the concentration of chloride ion from road salt in the Contoocook River, and its effects on the local environment
    • The Investigation of Synthetic Chemicals that Effect the Endocrine System of Red Ear Sunfish in NH lakes
    • The Investigation of Bacterial Infected Air
    • Studying the Effects of Elizabeth Mine on the Connecticut River and its Surroundings
    • The investigation of the effects of CO2 on ornamental plant growth
    • As food crops are a valuable commodity, it is imperative that we protect them from pests
    • Copper Toxicity of Marine Embryos
    • The Effects of Petroleum Contaminated Water on Aquatic Plants
    • The Effects of Intermittent and Constant EMFs on Drosophila
    • The effect of metal pollutants on mammalian cells
    • The effect of household detergents on fish
    • Shellfish and water pollution
  • Mathematics+ Show Examples
    • New category; no prior examples
  • Physics & Electronics+ Show Examples
    • Emissivity as a Function of Geometry
    • Do High Temperature Superconductors have a First Order Phase Transition?
    • Which Material is the Best Insulator?
    • Chaotic Pendulum
    • The strength of Spider Webs

Challenge Competitions

These competitions are intended for teams of up to three students, but an individual student could do a challenge project alone if desired. The competitions require competitors to solve a structured problem using good scientific principles. These competitions are good for students with strengths that span a variety of disciplines. All research and development will be done prior to the competition. Competitors are expected to bring their completed model or prepared materials and a poster which is intended to show all of their efforts. Topics include:

+ View Challenge Competition Categories


Balsa Bridge

Mousetrap Car Drag Racer

Yeast Growth Challenge


STEAM Competition

STEAM for this year is based on any Open or Challenge category.

What is the STEAM competition?  Basically, it adds another dimension to the traditional STEM fields (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics).  Typically, the “A” in STEAM stands for Art, but it might also stand for Awe.

In any of the STEM fields, there is often a way to look at a project as being related to or enhanced by Art.  The structure of something being engineered might actually be more effective if it is artistically appealing.  One might consider nature’s engineering of leaves and trees as producing works of art.

Another example might be someone envisioning an object such as a future building or vehicle and being so struck by the possibility that they begin the engineering to make it a reality.

For the STEAM part of the competition, put your main focus on how Art and/or Awe relates to your project.  The Art and the Awe of a project don’t have to be separate; they can be very closely related.  To compete in STEAM, your project must be in one of the categories in the Open or Challenge competitions.  The project does not have to be a winner in the chosen category, but it must qualify and be judged.

Judging for the STEAM projects will be based on the following criteria.

  1. The project must qualify within the chosen category in the Open or Challenge competitions. It does not need to be a winner, but it must qualify and be judged.  All the form requirements must be met, all the deadlines must be met, and the registration fee must be paid.
  2. How did Art or Awe get you started on your project? Did it provide a different perspective for you?  Did it help you see your project in a different way?
  3. Did the Art or Awe influence continue as the project progressed? Based on your Art/Awe experience with this project, is there anything you would recommend to anyone else trying it?  Did it provide you with a perspective for how to do it better?