There are plenty of ways to stand out as a great science student – and entering the Google Science Fair is among the more ambitious.
But it can also pay off big. The grand prize is a $50,000 educational scholarship, but you could also win one of several $5,000 and $15,000 scholarships funded by organizations like National Geographic. And other prize winners will receive some pretty cool Google gadgets, like an Android tablet or Chromebook.
If you've ever considered entering the science fair, now's the time to do it! Here's how to develop a winning project for the fair and get a chance at that prize money.
Look At Past Google Science Fair Winners
We'll be honest: Google Science Fair entries are a far cry from the model solar systems that you probably saw in elementary school science fairs. So take a look at projects that have done well at the fair in the past to get a sense of what Google looks for – and for a little inspiration.
Some of the past entries have included:
- A capsule that neutralizes the lactose in milk, so you can make your own lactose-free milk at home.
- Using seed extracts to transform polluted water into water that's safe to drink.
- Using leftover banana peels to produce plastic.
- Developing motion sensors to detect nighttime movement and improve safety for people with Alzheimer's.
- Finding more affordable ways to grow crops hydroponically, increasing crop yield at a lower cost to farmers.
Notice a trend? The best-performing projects take a real-world problem, like pollution or lactose intolerance, and find innovative ways to solve it.
Start Brainstorming Your Google Science Fair Project
Because successful Google Science Fair projects address real-world problems, that means your science fair inspiration is all around you. Kenneth Shinozuka – the New York City teen who won a 2014 award with his motion sensors – developed his idea because he wanted to help his grandfather, who had just been diagnosed with Alzheimer's.
Start brainstorming by thinking about what's causing you or your loved ones stress or worry. Or get involved with issues, like pollution or access to food, that impact your community – and what you could do to help.
Once you have a few potential issues you'd like to address, choose one that suits your natural strengths. A whiz with computers? A tech-based project is probably best for you? Ace your bio tests? Maybe a natural science project would work best.
Turn to Others for Help
No one goes from a complex problem to a workable solution all on their own. Google knows that, so there's no rule against getting resources from people with more experience than you. Chat with your science teachers or professors, or a trusted career mentor, about your intention to enter the Google Science Fair, and see if they have any tips to help with your project.
Don't be afraid to enlist your science-minded friends, too. You can enter the Google Science Fair as a group – just, be aware, your age category will be determined by your group's oldest member, even if you'd be in a younger category on your own.
Push Through Early Failures
Even the biggest science genius goes through several rounds of failure before making their award-winning discovery, and your science fair project is no exception. Elif Bilgin, the 2013 award-winner, carried out 10 failed experiments before she finally turned banana peels into a plastic-like substance, and it took 12 tries to get to her final submission.
So don't give up if your experiments don't work right away! Now's the time to turn to your mentor and talk through what you've done so far. Simply chatting about any roadblocks might give you the inspiration you need to push past them.
Get the Details in Order
Finally, make sure you know and understand the rules of the contest so that your experiment gets the shot it deserves. They're fairly straightforward, and you should check out the contest FAQ and read the complete rules here.
This year, submissions close on Dec. 13, and winners will be announced in March, April and May of next year. So get going on your stellar submission – and good luck!
About the Author
Sylvie Tremblay holds a Master of Science in molecular and cellular biology and has years of experience as a cancer researcher and neuroscientist. Before launching her writing business, she worked as a TA and tutored students in biology, chemistry, math and physics.