Any exhibit or student that does not follow the Official ISEF Rules and Forms will be disqualified and the exhibit will not be judged.
If you need the ISEF Rules and Forms in Spanish they are available. However, the forms and all Fair-related documents must be submitted in English to be eligible for competition.
To be eligible to compete in the regional and state fairs, each student participant must meet each of these requirements:
- Each student participant must be registered (on teams, each team member must register), and all forms must be submitted by the deadline to ensure that there is sufficient time for them to be reviewed by the SRC. Deadlines for registration for the NCSEF vary according to the date of your regional fair – please contact your regional fair director if you are unsure of your specific deadline date.
- Junior and Senior Division entries must be correctly categorized as Biological Science A, Biological Science B, Chemistry, Earth/Environmental Science, Physics/Mathematics, Technology, or Engineering. Changes to categories may be recommended by the NCSEF SRC during the review process; these recommendations are given based on the SRC’s determination that the project might compete better in an alternate category, but the final decision to change categories will be left to the student. However, no changes in category will be permitted or made on the day of the fair. Team projects are no longer a separate category. View detailed category descriptions.
- Students should arrive early enough to check in, pick up their exhibit space number and registration materials, and set up their displays. Please allow at least 45 minutes before the start of closed judging to ensure that you have time to set up your project and have it evaluated by the Display and Safety Committee.
- After setting up your display, please remain with your project until it is approved by the Display and Safety Committee. Students who leave their projects before they are approved for display will be disqualified from the competition. Please allow enough time in your schedule to wait for this approval; at busy times, a 15- to 20-minute wait might be necessary.
- Only research and engineering projects will be judged. Displays are not eligible for competition.
- In all divisions (Elementary, Junior, and Senior), no more than 3 students may work together on any project. Individual and group projects will be judged together.
- Only students enrolled in grades 3, 4, or 5 may compete in the Elementary Division.
Only students enrolled in grades 6, 7, or 8 may compete in the Junior Division.
Only students enrolled in grades 9, 10, 11, or 12 may compete in the Senior Division.
- All projects should display the abstract approved by the SRC during the registration process. This abstract is affixed with an embossed, gold-colored sticker and will be provided in the student’s registration packet. It is highly recommended that the abstract turned in to the Fair for this purpose (during SRC review) be typed and submitted in the PDF-formatted version, available here. Scanned JPEGs are often not very legible and are not recommended for this purpose. When setting up the display, the abstract may be mounted on the board or vertically from the front of the table or otherwise prominently displayed vertically, such as in an acrylic frame. Glass frames are not permitted.
- The SRC-approved Abstract should be the only Abstract displayed on or with the project. If the word “Abstract” is associated with any text on the board or other materials, the word should be covered, replaced (such as with the word “Summary”), or removed. If the word “Abstract” is visible on the student’s display in any location other than the approved Abstract form when the project is set up for competition, the word “Abstract” will be covered with paper or tape. This covering should not be removed until judging is completed; its presence will not affect the student’s score during judging.
- Students are encouraged to display a research paper and any research journals or data notebooks with their project to provide more details for the judges.
- Listing the student’s own school affiliation is permissible; however, listing any collaborations with science or engineering professionals or institutions is not permitted (listing these collaborations can unfairly bias the student’s project either for or against them in the setting of a competition). Any such collaborations, if present on the board when the student sets up their display, will be covered with paper or tape. Written acknowledgments should also be left off of the display for competition.
- The project’s display board should provide sufficient detail for judges to be able to gain an understanding of the student’s project without the requirement for additional information; with the exception of certain Technology and Engineering projects, any visual aids included in addition to the project display should enhance the presentation but should not be required for the presentation to be understood. All text should be legible and written in English (typed or clearly handwritten) unless the use of phrases in other languages was an integral part of the study.
- The project’s display board will be judged for the quality and interpretability of the data; it will not be judged based on aesthetic appearance. Going to great financial expense to generate the display is not necessary and will not increase your chances of placing in the competition.
- The decisions of the judges during competition are final.
- All students are expected to behave respectfully and professionally with the judges, the fair personnel and volunteers, other students, and any other visitors to their project displays during the fair. The fair personnel have the right to disqualify any competitors who behave inappropriately during the interview period (including rudeness/disrespectfulness, use of foul/obscene language, continued loudness or unruliness after being asked to remain quiet, or any other disruptive, intimidating, or aggressive behavior).
Specific Rules for Projects Involving Microorganisms
- Due to the risks and safety rules associated with culturing microorganisms, the NCSEF SRC restricts most microbiology projects to the Junior and Senior levels, with a few exceptions (described below). Please note: these exceptions do not and are not intended to supersede the ISEF rules, as outlined in the ISEF International Rules and Guidelines, available for download at https://student.societyforscience.org/intel-isef-forms. All experiments at all grade levels should still conform to ISEF regulations.
- Experiments using baker's/brewer's yeast (bread/beer yeast) can be performed at home (cultures can be grown at home) by all grade levels.
- Experiments using yogurt/cheese/buttermilk/kefir culture starters or probiotic cultures from commercially available probiotic supplements can be performed at home (cultures can be grown at home) by all grade levels. However, if you are culturing specific strains of these types of microorganisms (i.e., if you buy pure culture slants from Carolina Biological), these cultures cannot be grown at home; the experiment must be conducted at school or an alternative facility with dedicated lab space.
- Experiments using Eschericha coli ( coli) K-12 strain bacteria can be performed by all grade levels (you must be able to provide documentation verifying that your organism is the K-12 strain if requested to do so). However, this organism cannot be grown at home; the experiment must be conducted at school or an alternative facility with dedicated lab space.
- Experiments involving composting or decomposition of foods can be performed at home by all grade levels as long as no samples are cultured and as long as all projects in these categories are terminated at the first visible signs of microbial growth. If microbial growth is allowed to occur at the Elementary level, the experiment will not qualify for competition; if microbial growth is allowed to occur at the Junior and Senior levels, the experiment must be conducted at school or an alternative facility with dedicated lab space to qualify for competition.
- All other types of experiments involving the culturing or other manipulation of microorganisms are not permitted at the Elementary level.
- All other types of experiments involving the culturing of microorganisms (permitted at the Junior and Senior levels) cannot be performed at home; the experiments must be conducted at school or an alternative facility with dedicated lab space.
- Culturing of unknown microorganisms (such as those swabbed from skin surfaces, mouths, animals, flora/fauna, and inanimate objects such as doorknobs and remote controls) must be performed at a school or alternative facility with dedicated lab space.
Experiments involving the culturing of any unknown microorganisms are not allowed at the Elementary level.
- Microorganisms include, but are not limited to: bacteria, fungi (including molds), yeasts, viruses, viroids, prions, rickettsia, and parasites.
- ALL projects involving microorganisms must follow the ISEF Rules regarding culturing, handling, and disposal. These procedures must be detailed in the student’s Research Plan and on their Form 3 and/or Form 6A.
- Experiments involving protists are generally allowed at all grade levels as long as the organism does not cause human or animal disease or is not an environmental hazard. Experiments involving Plasmodium are NOT allowed unless they are conducted at a Regulated Research Institution with proper prior approvals in place (Junior and Senior levels only).