Ideas for a Fossil Science Fair Project

Make a fossil with coffee grounds to understand how nature makes a fossil.
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Ideas for a fossil science fair project can range from exploring processes by which fossils are made to making simulated fossils with modern materials. Fossils consist of the remains of any living organism preserved in a hard substance, such as mineral or rock. By examining fossils, scientists can ascertain an ancient organism’s climate and environment as well as how the organism fed, moved and reproduced. If your science project requires real fossils, use drawings and photographs to avoid having to collect them.

Easiest: Simulate a Fossil

Gather a 1/2 cup of cold coffee, 1 cup of coffee grounds, 1 cup flour, 1/2 cup salt, bowl, spatula, wax paper and glass. Find ferns, shells or toys that resemble insects or small animals. Mix the grounds, flour and salt in a bowl. Stir in the cold coffee until a clay forms. Flatten the clay on wax paper. Use the glass to cut out circles of clay. Press the shells, ferns or toys into the circles and gently pull them back out. Allow your fossils to dry overnight. Consider the process by which prints of plants or animals in real fossils are made in rock and how you have created a simple fossil out of your own clay.

Easy: Simulate a Fossil Fuel

Investigate why natural gas and oil are considered fossil fuels and the length of time it takes for these fuels to form. Gather three different types of bread, such as wheat, white and pumpernickel, Gummy Worms and a pile of heavy books. Place the layers of bread, which represent different layers of the Earth’s sediment, atop a paper towel on the floor. Insert some Gummy Worms, which represent small animals, into the middle layer of bread. Wrap the bread stack in the paper towel. Place the pile of books on top of your bread fossil, applying as much pressure as possible. Leave your fossil alone overnight. Record your prediction of how the break will appear the following morning. Take the books off of your fossil and unwrap the next day. Observe how the layers of bread now merge and the animal material has bled into the bread’s pores. Consider how much pressure is required to create fuel from fossils.

Moderate: Hunt for Sidewalk Fossils

Investigate imprints made by humans or animals in concrete. Consider that a sidewalk consists of man-made calcareous conglomerate, or particles glued together by calcium carbonate. Do a search of your neighborhood for impressions of leaves, branches or fallen items that were left in wet concrete. Look for pavement where pedestrians or bicyclists may have crossed earlier and left imprints. Use a map to record the locations of your sidewalk fossils. Take pictures or draw the imprints, highlighting their salient features. Study images of your fossils to gather more information about the human or animal. Consider the direction and speed of the organism’s movement. Use a sandbox to test your hypothesis. Recreate the footprints from a sidewalk fossil by using both damp and dry sand in a sandbox.

Challenging: Owl Pellets

Purchase owl pellets or find owl pellets in a forest near your house. Gather the pellets, forceps, an owl pellet bone chart, a magnifying lens and bowls. Place an owl pellet on a clean, white paper towel. Pull the pellet apart gently into quarters with the forceps. Divide each quarter in half. Pluck out and toss any fur. Poke through the pellet pieces to find bones or bone fragments. Use the forceps to transfer the bones into the bowls. Study the salient features of the bones to identify the animal’s skeleton on the bone chart. Consider the types of animals that serve as prey for owls.

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