The display is an essential part of your project. Although it alone will not save a bad project, it can enhance the success of a good one. There is nothing more disappointing than to have a judge or viewer overlook a meritorious project purely on the basis of its illegible or disorganized display. Therefore, it is worth spending some extra time making an attractive display.

Due to the guidelines established by the Intel ISEF, most state and regional fairs have put the emphasis on a “poster session” approach, where the backboard is the focal point of the display accompanied by a report and abstract. In general, your display should consist of a great-looking backboard and report both containing text, tables, graphs, charts, photographs, and diagrams to fully illustrate and explain your project.

Your exhibit should show all aspects of your project. There are many ways to do this, but you must remember that all information on the backboard should be clearly and concisely summarized to allow the viewer to grasp the essence of the project quickly. Lengthy discussions should be confined to the report. Only certain items from your project can be displayed. See “Display Restrictions” in this chapter for a general list of what can and cannot be displayed at the science fair.

The Backboard

The backboard is usually the most important part of your display. It should include all the major parts of your project. The backboard is essentially an upright, self-supporting board with organized highlights of your project. It is usually three-sided, although it does not necessarily have to be. The backboard should meet the spacing standards of the Intel ISEF if you plan to enter your project in a state or regional fair that is affiliated with the ISEF. The dimensions of your display must not be more than 108 inches (274 centimeters) high, including the table; 30 inches (76 centimeters) deep, and 48 inches (122 centimeters) wide. If these dimensions are exceeded, you may be disqualified.

When constructing your backboard, stay away from thin posterboard or cardboard. Backboards made of these materials will bend and do not look very professional. Instead, purchase a firm, self-supporting material such as a reinforced paperboard or corkboard. In the long run, you will find these types of materials easier to work with and more attractive. Alternatively, you may choose to purchase a premade backboard. In recent years this has become a popular choice among students. Two companies that specialize in the sale of premade backboards are Showboard and Science Fair Supply. Both offer backboards in a variety of sizes and materials and even offer other project display accessories. You can reach Showboard at 1-800-323-9189 or visit their Web site: Science Fair Supply can be reached at 1-800-556-3247 or online at:

Select appropriate lettering for your backboard. Use your computer’s word processor or purchase graphic design software that allows you to make a neat, attractive presentation on your backboard. If you do not have software that will allow you to do this, you might want to purchase self-sticking letters or make use of the services of a professional printer. In recent years, almost all science fair project backboards (at the state and international level) have typeface styles and background patterns that have been rendered in one of many terrific graphic design software programs. If you do not have such a program on your home computer, your school probably has one. Whichever program you choose, keep in mind that because so many options are available, it is simply unacceptable to handprint your backboard, especially if you are aiming for a top-notch project.

Now that you know how to construct a backboard, you need to know what information you should put on it and where to place it. There is no standard way of making a backboard; however, all the information displayed on it should be well organized. The project title, for example, should stand out in the middle section in bold print. The rest of your information should be placed in an orderly fashion from left to right under organized headings that follow the scientific method. You can also apply headings that relate more specifically to your subject. Whatever headings you choose, make sure they are explicit so that a viewer can grasp each element of your project quickly and efficiently.

The information that you place under each heading is crucial. It must be concise and inclusive. Do not fill up your backboard with excess information. Try to summarize the facts under each heading in no more than 300 words. Additional backboard space can be filled with additional visual information on your subject.

The Report

It is also important that your report be of good quality. This means that you must organize a portfolio of clearly stated, factual information. It is important to keep this in mind because the report is essentially your spokesperson when you are not with your project (for example, during preliminary judging).

An organized report contains the historical background on your subject, an introduction that states your purpose, a procedure that explains your means of acquiring information, your plan for organizing an experiment, and all the recorded data, diagrams, flow charts, photos, conclusions, and other details that fully explain your project. You might even want to include detailed descriptions about different phases in your experiment in the form of a diary. It is a good idea to include the names and places you have visited, together with any related correspondence.

Your report may be easier to complete if you create a journal when you begin to work on your project. If you record everything in your journal as you go along, all you will need to do later is organize your notes, since your journal is essentially the foundation of your report.

In organizing your report, you will have to distinguish between primary and secondary sources of information. Primary sources of information consist of surveys, observations, and experimentation that you have done either alone or through a mentor. Secondary sources are outside sources, such as the library, media organizations, government agencies, companies, laboratories, and so on. If you have used secondary sources for information either quoted directly or used indirectly, you must acknowledge these sources in footnotes and in a bibliography. Also, if you have worked under the guidance of a mentor or adviser be sure to give credit to this person and those who have assisted you in a references section in the report.

As with your backboard, make sure you prepare the report with word not be able to explain your project as well as you can, but it is reassuring to know that an organized report can work well for you in your absence.

If you write a thorough report that encompasses all of the items mentioned here, you may be eligible to submit it to another type of science competition, such as the Intel Science Talent Search, a local Junior Science and Humanities Symposium, or another similar competition.

The Abstract

An abstract is a brief summary of your project that is 250–300 words long. The abstract briefly explains the project’s purpose and procedural plan and presents generalized data and a short discussion of your conclusions. There is no standard way to write an abstract, but it should always be concise and clear. Many state and regional fairs have made the abstract a mandatory part of science fair project competition and specify that it must be completed and submitted to the science fair’s Scientific Review Committee with an application for admission to the science fair. Many science fairs review the abstract to make sure that the project you have been working on meets the standards proscribed by the fair’s Scientific Review Committee and the rules and regulations established by that science fair. The abstract further helps to categorize your project into the correct scientific category of competition, and it helps the judges to quickly grasp the summary of your project. It may even suggest to the judges that they should consider your work for other awards that are sponsored by outside special awards presenters.


Is Synthetic Motor Oil Spillage Environmentally Safer than Petroleum Motor Oil Spillage?

The impact of oil spillage is a great concern for the environment whether it be due to its regulated disposal or by accident. The purpose of this project is to determine, in the event of spillage, which form of motor oil, namely, regular petroleum motor oil or synthetic motor oil, would have the least negative impact on the environment. It was hypothesized that the regular petroleum motor oil would have the least negative impact since the synthetic motor oil contains manmade polymers. In order to test this theory, the growth rate of bean plants grown in soil containing traces of unused synthetic motor oil that was administered in various amounts and the growth rate of bean plants grown in the same soil containing traces of unused regular petroleum motor oil that was administered in the same amounts were compared against bean plants that were grown in the same soil where no traces of either type of oil were administered. The results indicated that every bean plant exposed to traces of oil was negatively impacted compared to the control group of bean plants. However, between the two types of oils studied herein, it was evident that the synthetic oil had more of a negative impact upon the plants as evidenced by retarded root length and the ability of the plants to sprout beans which were measured and recorded at various intervals and at the conclusion of the experiment. Therefore, my hypothesis was correct, the spillage of regular petroleum motor oil appears to have the least negative impact.

The above example contains a simple abstract of a recent award-winning science fair project to give you an idea of how an abstract is written.

Display Restrictions

You read in Chapter 3 about the project limitation guidelines established by the Intel ISEF. The Intel ISEF also has strict regulations involving the exhibition of certain articles in conjunction with the rest of your exhibit. The following is a summary of the Intel ISEF display and safety rules. If you have any questions, contact your science fair administrator or Science Service, the organization that administers the Intel ISEF, for more information about what is acceptable for display.

A rule of thumb is to avoid anything that could be potentially hazardous to display in public. The intent of the rule is to protect other students and the public. You can usually uphold such regulations by using photographs, drawings, graphs, charts, and model simulations (where permissible) to show the results of your investigation and research.

If you have any doubts about displaying any part of your project, be sure to first check with officials from your local science fair or contact the Intel ISEF. The following is a summary of items that cannot be displayed.

Items That Cannot Be Displayed
  1. Live animals, living organisms, preserved vertebrate/invertebrate animals, taxidermy specimens, or parts including embryos
  2. All live materials, including plants and microbes
  3. Human or animal parts or body fluids (i.e., blood or urine) except teeth, hair, nails, histological dry mount sections, and wet mount tissue slides properly acquired
  4. All soil and waste samples and related materials
  5. All chemicals including water and their containers
  6. Poisons, drugs, controlled substances, or hazardous substances or devices (e.g., firearms, weapons, ammunition)
  7.  Food, human or animal
  8. Syringes, pipettes, and similar devices and sharp objects
  9. Dry ice or other sublimating solids (e.g., solids that can vaporize into a gas without first becoming a liquid)
  10. Any flame, open or concealed
  11. Highly flammable display materials
  12. Tanks that have contained combustible gases or liquids, unless purged with carbon dioxide
  13. Batteries with open top cells
  14. Photographs and other visual presentations of surgical techniques, dissection, necropsies, and/or laboratory techniques depicting vertebrate animals in other-than-normal conditions
  15. Operation of a Class III or IV laser

The following is a summary of items that can be displayed with certain restrictions:

Items That Can Be Displayed with Restrictions

(Check with your local science fair officials to determine how you can make these items suitable for display.)

  1. Projects with unshielded belts, pulleys, chains and moving parts with tension or pinch points
  2. Any device requiring voltage over 110 volts
  3. Soil or waste samples if permanently encased
  4. Empty tanks that previously contained combustible liquids or gases must be certified as having been purged with carbon dioxide
  5. Class III and Class IV lasers (but may not be operated)
  6. Class II lasers containing a sign that reads “Laser Radiation Do Not Stare into Beam,” with a protective housing that prevents access to the beam, operated only during display, safety inspection, and judging
  7. Large vacuum tubes or dangerous ray–generating devices must be properly shielded
  8. Pressurized tanks that contained noncombustibles may be allowed if properly secured
  9. Any apparatus producing temperatures that will cause physical burns must be adequately shielded


  1. Your science project display is very important and should be presented in an organized and attractive manner.
  2. The display should consist of a backboard containing summary information about your project under organized headings that are based on the scientific method, tables, graphs, charts, photographs and diagrams, a report, and an abstract.
  3. Backboards must meet the standard space requirements established by the Intel ISEF, which are 108 inches (274 centimeters) high including table, 30 inches (76 centimeters) deep, and 48 inches (122 centimeters) wide.
  4. The report can be created primarily from your project journal. It contains all the details about each step in your project along with flow charts and photographs that may be too cumbersome or inappropriate to display on your backboard.
  5. An abstract is a short essay that summarizes the goals, methods, and conclusions of your project.
  6. The Intel ISEF has established regulations for the restriction and modification of potentially hazardous items for display.