Question, investigate, result, repeat

The connection between a good science question, the investigation of that question (through experimentation, observation, and similar), and the results of that investigation can be imagined like the picture above: A scientist with a question investigates that question. Then, they find something (sometimes even finding nothing counts as something) and with that result they’re able to think of a new, better question.

Coming up with questions that can then be turned into science fair topics is all I’ve talked about so far, but there are other ways we can try to think of science fair topics. If Question -> Investigate -> Result is a loop, what if we just started at “Investigate”?

Try starting at the "Investigate" step

Maybe you already know what you want to do, but the problem is, does that work for a science fair? If only you had some question that would give you an excuse to do what you already wanted to do! Lets see how this might work.

Sometimes I think to myself: “Wouldn’t it be cool if my dog could race against Olympic sprinters? I think she’d be way faster than they are.”

So, I know what I want to do, I want to have my dog race an Olympic sprinter. If I were to consider racing dogs and Olympians as the “investigation” part of this three-part loop, what kind of scientific questions might I be able to answer? An easy question – and actually the whole reason I thought this up to begin with – is “Can a dog run faster than an Olympic sprinter?”Another possible question: “Are dogs better at long distance running than humans?”

In our “Question -> Investigation -> Result” loop, that just leaves the result. Of course, I don’t know what’s going to happen, and that’s great, because that’s the fun part of science!

More examples

What you want to do: “I want to make my Dad’s truck more fuel efficient.”
Possible question: “What are possible do-it-yourself modifications that can be made to improve the fuel efficiency of trucks?”
Possible question: “How much does the tailgate of a truck being up or down impact fuel economy?”

What you want to do: “I want to make my baby brother go through mazes.”
Possible question: “For how long can X year old babies remember the path through a maze?”
Possible question: “What motivates a baby more: sweet snacks, encouragement from their mom, or a favourite toy?

What do want to do: “I want a wifi connection at my fort, 10 miles into the forest.”
Possible question: “At what distance can an unmodified wireless router maintain a connection with a laptop?
Possible question: “Can a wireless router be modified to double its effective connection distance?”

Do what you want, then figure out why it's science

This sounds like cheating… Maybe it is? For this to work there still has to be something you don’t know. For instance, if I knew my dog could easily outrun an Olympic sprinter, then having Olympians come over to race my dog doesn’t accomplish much as far as science is concerned. It’s because there’s still a question hidden in there that this works.

So, now we have two ways of coming up with science fair project topics:

  1. Question -> Investigation
  2. Investigation -> Question