Designing a Science Project

Science is our way of explaining the world around us.  When we do research, it is to answer a question that we may have about our world.  For instance, you notice that potato chips that are left in an open bag become soft.  You wonder what causes this.  You think it might be something in the air.  So you research and you find out that air is composed of 78% nitrogen, 21% oxygen, 1% water and tiny amounts of other gases.  You think that it must be that one of these is causing the chips to become soft.  So ... you have a question that you want to answer.

Let's see how to approach your science project!
  • You have a problem.
  • You propose what you think is happening: a hypothesis.
  • You write a research plan to test your hypothesis.
  • You implement your plan.
  • You summarize your data.
  • You analyze to see if your hypothesis was confirmed or refuted.
  • You draw your conclusion.
  • You might say that your problem is that "it is not known what causes potato chips to soften".  There are many ways to state your problem, but you want to be concise and pointed in what you state.  You do not want to include too many things in your problem.  You want it as simple and direct as possible.
  • A hypothesis is an educated guess of what you think is happening.  You are not supposed to necessarily be right.  This is just a guess that helps you construct your research plan.  With this problem you might think that since the major component of air is nitrogen, it might be the nitrogen causing the chips to soften.  If that is what you think, you would state your hypothesis as "Since nitrogen is the largest component of air and exposure to air causes chips to soften, nitrogen will be found to be the agent that softens chips."
  • A research plan guides your testing.  Your testing should directly test your hypothesis.  You might decide to test this hypothesis with the following research plan:
    • Obtain an unopened bag of chips.
    • Select 15 gallon ziplock bags.
    • Obtain sources of nitrogen, oxygen and water vapor. 
    • Into each ziplock bag place 10 chips, push as much air out of the bag and seal the bags.
    • Using tubing, fill 3 of  the ziplock bags with nitrogen, fill 3 with oxygen, fill 3 with water vapor, open three to plain air and do nothing to 3 but keep them sealed. 
    • In experimental design, we try to have more than one of a test.  We call these replicates.  With this design, we have three replicates of each test.  We also try to have what we call controls.  There are two controls in this design.  One control is the plain air to make sure that these chips behave as you expect and soften in air.  One control is the sealed bag.  This makes sure that these chips are not softening without exposure to air. 
    • To test the softening, you have a sensitive decibel meter and you decide to crush each chip and measure the crunch sound.  You decide to randomize your testing (also a part of good experimental design) so you mix up your bags and measure all the crunching one chip at a time, being careful to record a measurement for each chip. 
    • Now you summarize your data and you find that the data indicates high sound crunching for nitrogen, oxygen and the sealed bags and low crunch sounds for the plain air and no crunch sounds for the water vapor.  This is not what you expected and you realize that your hypothesis is not supported by the testing.
  • Your conclusion would then be stated, "Water vapor was found to cause potato chips to soften, the hypothesis was refuted."

Now remember, you find your own problem and you design your own experiment!!!!!