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Guide to Fun Experimental Science Projects

By: Molly Schwichtenberg

Not every field involving science comes up with a conclusion the same way. Scientific fields like physics and chemistry conduct experiments that follow the scientific method. Other sciences, like zoology or anthropology, gather information by actually observing things or conducting interviews, then draw conclusions. But every type of science works by creating a hypothesis to explain their observations, gathering data, and drawing conclusions. The main difference comes in what type of data is collected and how that data is gathered and processed.

For physical scientists, data usually consists of numbers that can be plotted onto graphs. These graphs can help the scientist create equations that can make predictions. For an anthropologist, data could consist of a recorded interview that can be compared to other information. When creating your own experimental science project, you'll need to understand what type of data you need to collect and how to collect it in order to test your own hypothesis.

The Experimental Scientific Method

Experimental science relies on the cause-and-effect relationships found in nature. In order to test your scientific hypothesis, you'll need to show the cause and effect between the variables you choose. Your hypothesis will be your best guess about what the actual relationship is. Once you collect your data, you can draw a conclusion that can help you predict a future cause-and-effect relationship.

Experimental Scientific Method Steps

The main steps of your experiment should be observation, hypothesis, controlled experiment, and conclusion. Work your way through this steps to make sure that your conclusions are sound.

  • Initial observation: First, observe something and ponder why it happens and what could cause it. Ask yourself a few questions, like how or why something works, and write your questions down.
  • Information-gathering: Now, you can begin researching the information you need. Read books or interview professionals who can help shed some light on the topic of your experiment. Always keep track of your resources, since you may need to cite them later.
  • Project title: Pick a title that describes the thing you're investigating. Make it short and engaging, but also make sure it summarizes what your investigation is doing.
  • State your purpose: Write down what you want to do, what your purpose is.
  • Identify your variables: Once you've gathered information, you can make an educated guess about which things will affect your experiment. This step is important and will help you create your hypothesis.
  • Make your hypothesis: Now, you can use the information and variables you've gathered to form a hypothesis. Think about each variable individually, and determine if the hypothesis will change as the variables change. Now, craft your hypothesis in the form of a question that can be tested by your experiment. If you have more than one question, you can do an experiment to test each one.
  • Design your experiment: Create a list of the steps you need to take to answer the question of your hypothesis. This is called an experimental procedure. In order to get a reliable answer, you'll need something called a control. The control is an experiment done exactly like the one you're planning but with no change in the variables. The control gives you something to compare your results to at the end.
  • Gather your materials and equipment: Write down all of the things you'll need in order to perform your experiment. If special equipment is needed, contact a local college or business that might be able to loan it to you. You might also need to order special materials from scientific catalogs.
  • Perform the experiment and record the data: Conduct a series of experiments, and be sure to record the data of each one. As you record your data, be sure to keep track of any measurements you make. This can include things like the number or volume of chemicals you used, how long something took to happen, and how much of a material you ended up with. All of this information is known as raw data.
  • Record your observations: Write down what happened, including the results you saw and any problems you ran into.
  • Perform your calculations: You might need to do some calculations from your raw data in order to create a conclusion. For instance, you might need to do math to compare how much of a material you started with and what was left at the end.
  • Make a summary: Create a summary of what you've seen and what you've calculated. You can do this in the form of a table or graph, or you could just write it down in sentences; it depends on what form your results take.
  • Draw conclusions: Based on everything you've done, you can now try to answer the original question of your experiment. Is the hypothesis you came up with correct? Your conclusion will take everything you've learned and put it into a final answer. List out all of the things you learned, and make note of anything you could have done differently.

Errors in Your Experiment

Sometimes, you might not notice anything different or new after you do your experiment. If there was no obvious trend or change as you ran your experiments, it's possible that your conclusion will be that the variable you changed had no effect. But it's also possible that an error is affecting your results. You will want to check how you did all of your measurements and make sure you read everything correctly. If you've decided that it could be an experimental error, go through all of the steps to see if you can spot where you may have made a mistake.

One type of error is a random error, which is usually obvious. This happens when the data you have gathered just doesn't seem to make any sense. It often happens because nature always has some form of randomness occur, and there's not much you can do about it. Try your experiment again, and see if you get the same results. If there's been a random error, your results will probably be different the second time. Check to see if you're doing the experiment exactly the same way each time: If you've accidentally changed something that shouldn't be changed, that might explain the problem.

A systematic error can be more difficult to find. You might be doing something you don't even realize that causes your data to be off. In this case, if you do the experiment again, you'll get the same results, because you're making the same mistake each time. Check everything, including chemicals, rulers, and even your computer or spreadsheet, to make sure that none of these things are throwing off your data. If all of your data is affected in the same way, it is most likely some kind of systematic error. Have someone else try to conduct your experiment and see if they get the same results. If so, it is probably a systematic error.

Check all of your variables and make sure that they are independent of each other. If the variables produce the proper effect separate from the other variables, then you should be getting the correct and consistent results you're looking for.

Remember to always have fun, even if you run into errors. This is the best way to learn the scientific method: through trial and error.