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Frequently Asked Questions about ISEF

When and Where is ISEF?

 ISEF 2020 will be held in Anaheim, California, May 10-15, 2020.

Who enters ISEF?

Students in grades 9-12 or equivalent must compete in an ISEF affiliated science fairs around the world AND win the right to attend ISEF.  Each affiliated fair may send a pre-determined number of projects to ISEF (as factored by participation and high school population) to compete in 21 different categories. For a complete set of rules and guidelines on eligibility to compete at ISEF, please review the International Rules for Precollege Science Research.

What is the timeline for ISEF and when should I start my research?

Students may present work for their project which includes no more than 12 months of continuous research and may not include research performed over 18 months from the time of ISEF Fair in which they will be competing.  Local, regional, and state affiliated fairs take place throughout the year, but all will be completed by early April. 

What is an ISEF affiliated science fair?

A Society-affiliated science fair is a research-based, high school competition that is a member of the ISEF network. These competitions exist in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 75 countries, regions, and territories. To affiliate, science fairs agree to follow basic guidelines for fair operations and ISEF rules governing student research, but are ultimately responsible for their own management. Fairs are conducted at local, regional, state and national levels. Find an Society-affiliated fair in your area

How do I find an Affiliated Fair in my state or country?

Fairs are conducted at local, regional, state and national levels. Find an Society-affiliated fair in your area.  For more information about a specific fair in your area, you can contact the fair directly by clicking on the fair name, which will direct you to their website. 

What if my state or country does not have an Affiliated Fair?

This is where you can be an advocate for science! Contact your local school officials and make them aware about ISEF. If you gain interest within your school district, and they are interested in affiliating, they may find more information about New Affiliations here

General requirements for a fair to affliate include: 

  • The fair must serve a geographic territory that is not covered by another affiliate fair, except in cases of state or national fairs.
  • The fair must operate under ISEF Rules and Guidelines and ensure that students and teachers are aware of these requirements as they begin research projects. New fairs should have at least one year's experience with these Rules.
  • The Fair Director agrees to hold the Affiliated Fair by the given deadline in early April.

Fairs will be granted affiliation status based on meeting these requirements, as well as the overall benefit the fair offers to the students and schools in the proposed territory.

Why can't I enter ISEF directly? 

Students cannot represent themselves at ISEF because this competition is a closed event.  Finalists that make it to ISEF have gone through many levels of competition.  However, students can generally start at a local school science fair and then progress on to the upper levels of competition, in which ISEF affiliated fair may be the last tier of competition. We also want to make sure that all students who compete at ISEF have unique ideas and inventions and follow our guidelines for safe and appropriate research; both of which are checked through participation in affiliated fairs.

I want to start my research but I have an question about the International Rules. Who can answer my inquiry? 

Each Affiliated Fair has an established Scientific Review Committee (SRC) to answer your inquiries before experimentation. Additionally, the ISEF SRC is available year round to answer any rules inquiries. Questions about the International Rules, especially pertaining to the use of Vertebrates, Human Subjects, or Potentially Hazardous Biological Agents can be addressed to the ISEF SRC directly at SRC@societyforscience.org

What are the most common reasons a project would fail to qualify? 

You can find a report from ISEF addressing the most common reasons why some projects fail to qualify here

What are ISEF awards?

More than 600 individual and team awards are presented every year at the ISEF. Each entry is judged at least four times with category awards given in first, second, third and fourth place. Awards are $3,000, $1,500, $1,000 and $500 respectively in each of the 22 categories. The top winner of the ISEF receives the Gordon Moore Award, and $75,000, with the next top two winners each receiving a $50,000 award. Additional awards worth approximately $4 million are provided through the ISEF Special Awards program, and include tuition scholarships, summer internships, scientific field trips, and laboratory equipment. They are provided by and about 70 other corporate, professional, and government sponsors annually.

Who are the judges at ISEF?

Each year about 1,000 science, engineering, and industry professionals serve as judges for ISEF. All judges have a Ph.D. or equivalent degree and/or six years of relevant experience. Judges volunteer their time and pay their own travel and accommodation expenses. Learn more about becoming a judge.

What is Society for Science & the Public?

Society for Science & the Public (Society) is a non-profit organization based in Washington, DC.  The Society has managed the International Science and Engineering Fair for more than 6 decades, including the application process, judging, recruitment of volunteers to contribute over 2,000+ hours of work, a week of activities for our domestic and international finalists, processing awards, and keeping in touch with alumni.  

Contact us for more information about ISEF.

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