Please refer to Student Guide in the Document Library for your scientific poster and display requirements as well as what to upload for this year’s virtual fair. The process below refers to an in-person fair.
The purpose of the display is to describe the science project work to the judges. Our emphasis is on a “poster session” where the display board should be the focus of the judges’ attention. It may contain, written discussions and tables, graphs and charts, diagrams or drawings, and photographs. We ask that you leave at home essentially anything that you used to do your experiment. Anything that you do choose to bring must conform to the Display & Safety Regulations
Focus on a backboard that will capture the judges’ attention and communicate the experiment and results to them, leaving fragile, valuable, or otherwise unnecessary props at home. The student’s job in preparing the display is to present the research aspects of the work as clearly and concisely as possible. A great project may escape the judges’ attention if key elements are not presented or are buried in the back of a notebook.
Remember, during Preliminary Judging, your uploaded project display and other materials give the judges the first impression of your project. They are reviewed by the judges in preparation for your virtual interview.
For Finalist Judging, students should arrive at the fair with completed displays. Project set-up is not the time to glue or tape items to the display board. Display assembly must be done in advance of the fair. Make up a tool kit containing whatever you need to assemble your display at the fair. Extra tape, pins, paper, scissors, glue, screwdrivers, pliers, hammer, whatever you think that you might need. The fair’s physical layout committee is prepared to loan some items, but it is best to be prepared.
Every project receives the same space allocation and not an inch more, no matter what. Only table top displays are allowed.
- The project must be no higher than 78 inches when measured from the table top.
- Project board width is limited to 48 inches.
- Project board depth is limited to 30 inches.
These dimensions include anything that is on display for your project at the fair. If the display needs a brace or an easel, the space that these items occupy is included in the size measurement. A trifold display board is the simplest to use. Other designs are acceptable provided that they are free standing and fit within the size constraints. Prior to the fair, set up the project at home and double check the dimensions. The size limitations are absolute.
What to Bring
First time participants seem to think that they have to bring all their laboratory equipment and/or gadgets to show their work. This really is not what the display is all about. Commercial equipment is only allowed during finalist judging if it is an integral part of your project. If you need power for your project it should be requested as part of your registration.
In the preliminary judging round, judges are looking for a description of what you set out to do, how you did it, special apparatus that you might have developed, your data, your interpretation of the data, results, and conclusions.
For most projects all of this can be accomplished using a poster display with laboratory notebooks, key references, previous work, and a research report to provide details that are too complex for the backboard.
Some projects, such as those dealing with computer software, will need special treatment to convey the importance of the work without having the computer present. Though, just because a computer was used to model a process or compile your results does not mean the computer needs to be at the fair. If the result is the operation of software that the student developed, then typical results must be shown, screenshots, a description of the code that was written, etc. If a model that the student built is important to telling the story, then choose to display it in a protective case.
If you are called as a finalist to present your work to the judges, then you can bring special apparatus, computers, etc., to help describe your work provided that the equipment complies with the safety rules.
Photographs of delicate specimens, your experimental setup, etc. will enhance your story. Good closeups can be achieved with either a macro lens or the macro function on a camera.
The overall size (within fair restrictions) is up to you. Large displays don’t necessarily mean good projects. Use whatever space it takes to tell the story. Materials for the backboard can vary from plywood to cardboard to styrofoam. Do get help in choosing the materials and cutting out the pieces. Ready made display/presentation boards in a range of colors with header cards (title cards) are available at most office supply stores. Some schools also have reusable display boards, check and see. Whatever material the display is made of, it must be free-standing. There are no walls to lean the display against. Propping a display by using someone else’s display is not allowed.
Determine the size of your content lettering based on reading distance. For a judge reading the display, three feet is the typical distance. Font styles, sizes, and color schemes that can be read from 6 to 8 feet away are good for titles and subtitles. Some type size suggestions are:
- Project Titles, 2 inches high
- Subtitles, 0.5 inches high
- Content Lettering, 0.25 inches high
Make the title clear and easy to read. Avoid type styles that may be hard to read. Fonts that have shadows or outlines may seem like a great idea, but they are harder to read than simple lettering. Computer generated lettering is easy and economical. Press-on letters are great if budgeting allows. Take the time to look at some advertising posters to decide how large lettering and graphics need to be in order to be easily read at distances from 3 to 8 ft.
Deciding on the color scheme and other artistic aspects of the display, can be a lot of fun. For those less than artistically inclined, you may have to learn a little about graphic art and design. The school’s art teacher can be a source of ideas, hints for layout, color choices, and type styles. Color schemes used for web design or for paint are good and easy to find references. Any place that sells paint for homes will likely have a whole section of free paint swatches; small cards with complimentary color variations.
What to Include in the Display
There are a few formal requirements for the display contents, the rest is up to you. Ideas are presented here to help get you started
On the Backboard
- Project’s hypothesis or, if it’s an engineering project, state the goal.
- Background or introduction describing briefly what has been done previously by others.
- Experimental plan or procedure. For engineering projects provide design analysis, calculations, drawings, as appropriate.
- Results: Best handled with brief summaries. Leave the lengthy details for your notebook or research report with a footnote on the backboard for where the judges should look. Graphs of data are best. A picture is really worth a thousand words. Graphs are easier to interpret than tables full of numbers.
- Conclusions: Summarize your important findings.
- Discussion and applications: A few words about ideas that you plan to explore (provided you’re planning to continue the work) might be interesting. Applications of your work, especially if they are not obvious might be really exciting.
On the Table
- Notebooks, journals, reference articles, etc. which document your work. These need not be fancy. Bring what you really used to write down your observations, your thoughts, and your analysis. Share your rough materials with the judges.
- Abstract – A brief description of the research summarized to 250 words. Your abstract can be either on the the table or on your backboard.
- Your Research Report
- Experimental hardware (only if absolutely needed): specimens, samples, simulated items, etc. It depends on what you feel is necessary to display your findings.
- The test for any project is whether the display can get the point across to an audience in the student’s absence.
What NOT to Include in Your Display
- No Props: Commercial equipment is not allowed throughout the preliminary judging phase so leave things like thermometers, blood pressure cuffs, voltmeters, stop watches, and laboratory equipment at home. If you are selected as a finalist and have equipment to demonstrate, you may bring for Finalist Judging.
- No Hazardous Materials: Practically any chemical should be left home. For more detail, please review the Display Regulations
- Don’t Show Your Name, School Name and Pictures that identify you by name on the backboard: Your name and school can only appear on your official CSEF abstract, journals, and reports. Pictures of you working on your project are permitted.
Best wishes for a rewarding experience!