High School Science Fair Project Topics in Engineering

by Jo Pick

    High school science fair projects can help budding engineers demonstrate their creativity, and in the process get an impressive entry on their resumes. These projects are good introductions to the scientific method and the process of designing, building and testing a device. Science fair projects also show students the value of preparing an impressive demonstration of a device's capabilities and usefulness, a well as a written report on the device, and cogent answers to questions from observers. In other words, science fair projects introduce students to the ways in which government agencies, corporations and venture capitalists evaluate devices brought to them.

    Solar Power

    Solar energy enables students to explore longstanding physics, chemistry, engineering and mathematical principles in an effort to solve one of mankind's most pressing problems -- the need for alternative forms of energy. The social and environmental impact of these projects is one of their attractive features. Another attractive feature is the audience excitement some of them generate when they move, spin or run across the floor. Possible projects include solar powered (toy) vehicles, solar powered fans, solar panels that double as roof shingles, and solar cells that use different parts of the spectrum -- including non-visible ultra violent and infrared light.

    Wind Turbines

    Wind turbines are frequently in the news because wind, like solar, is a renewable form of energy. Wind turbines -- together with their interesting history, readily available pictures on the Internet, and the eye-catching movement of their blades -- make for popular science fair projects. Typical projects compare the efficiency of turbines that vary in the number of blades, blade shape, and blade pitch or angle. Some projects address the benefits of a turbine that always faces in the same direction versus one that turns as the direction of the wind changes. Another possible approach would be to develop a system that automatically changes the blade pitch and the number of turbines in operation as the wind changes speed and direction.

    Hovercraft

    Hovercraft interest students and judges because they can travel where jeeps, tanks, planes and ships are useless. Hovercraft can float one foot or 20 feet off the ground, and they travel equally well over land, water, mud and swamp. Hovercraft glide on a cushion of air produced by fans directed downward. Placing a skirt around the craft contains the downward flow which makes the craft more efficient and less disruptive to the surrounding environment. As a science fair project, students might investigate how various skirt shapes, designs and materials affect the smoothness of the ride, as well as the craft's lift, flexibility and durability.

    Magnetic Levitation

    The celebrated Japanese bullet trains use magnetic levitation. Maglev trains move and eventually stop as a result of systematic changes in the magnetic fields around the trains and the tracks. They travel a few inches above the tracks; as their wheels never touch the tracks, friction is eliminated thereby enabling the trains to travel at about twice the speed of other high-speed trains, with less fuel and mechanical wear. Trains are not the only use for magnetic levitation. NASA is working on a maglev launch system for the moon, and has partnered with a company that is working on maglev cars that fly. Students interested in magnetic levitation might investigate different ways of creating magnetic fields and different uses for magnetic levitation. One good thing about a magnetic levitation science fair project is that it is relatively easy to build a small scale model of a maglev system.

    About the Author

    Jo Pick has a master's degree in speech pathology from the University of Florida and has studied child development at the University of Kansas. She has worked with children and families for more than 35 years and is a certified Early Intervention Service Coordinator. A book Pick edited on children's acquisition of communicative competence was published by University Park Press in 1984.

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