NWSES Rulebook

Who can participate?

Any student in grades 5-12 who attends school in Oregon is invited to present their project in the Northwest Science Expo System of fairs. Home school students are welcome.

Projects must be inquiry-based science or engineering in the areas of the natural sciences, the social sciences, mathematics, or computer science. The work must be conducted by the student; the student may enlist the advice of a mentor.

NWSES IS ONLY FOR EXPERIMENTAL RESEARCH. Students need to pose a research question and gather the data to answer it. This may include research that is descriptive and pattern seeking if the student collects the data. Or it may include asking an original question that is answered using statistics on data gathered by other than the student, IF the student poses the research question, determines the statistical methods to be used and interprets the results.

IMPORTANT: HIGH SCHOOL (9-12) STUDENT ELIGIBILITY High school students must qualify for NWSE through a Regional Fair. Go here for a list of regional fairs. A student may only present 1 project.

IMPORTANT: MIDDLE SCHOOL (5-8) STUDENT ELIGIBILITY ALL middle school projects may go directly to NWSE-the state fair-without attending a regional fair. The only limitation will be a maximum of 12 projects per school. We also ask for no more than 2 projects in the same category from a school.  The spirit we want to encourage is choosing the best of your projects to attend NWSE, whether through an in school fair or other selection process.

How do you participate at NWSE?
Online registration is required. All rules must be followed. Most middle school projects can use the MSEZ Rules, those which don’t and all high school projects must follow the ISEF rules.

Adult Sponsor
An Adult Sponsor may be a teacher, parent, or mentor. The Adult Sponsor is responsible for online registration and communicating with the student.

Designated Supervisor
The Designated Supervisor is an adult who supervises a student's experiment.

Qualified Scientist
A Qualified Scientist should possess an earned doctoral/professional degree in the field of study of the project. However, a master's degree with equivalent experience and/or expertise is acceptable when approved by a Scientific Review Committee (SRC).

Institutional Review Board (IRB)
An Institutional Review Board (IRB) is a committee that, according to federal law, must evaluate the potential physical or psychological risk of research involving human subjects. This must happen before experimentation begins. This includes any surveys or questionnaires to be used in a project. The IRB must consist of a minimum of three members.

The IRB should include: a) science teacher b) school administrator and c) medical professional or counselor. Due to the federal regulations requiring local community involvement, an IRB must be established at the school level to deal with human research projects. Notes:

Scientific Review Committee (SRC)
An SRC must consist of a minimum of three persons. Additional members are recommended to avoid conflict of interest. The SRC must include:


A Scientific Review Committee (SRC) examines projects for the following:

The SRC follows this three-step process:
BEFORE EXPERIMENTATION, the Local SRC reviews and approves experimental procedures for projects involving human subjects, nonhuman vertebrates, pathogenic agents, controlled substances, recombinant DNA, and human/animal tissue to make sure they comply with the Rules and any pertinent laws. Human studies reviewed and approved by a properly constituted IRB do not have to be reviewed by the SRC until the Research Competition.
AFTER EXPERIMENTATION AND SHORTLY BEFORE THE REGIONAL FAIR, the Regional SRC reviews and approves projects entering their fair to make sure that students followed the approved Research Plan (1A) and the Rules.
AFTER EXPERIMENTATION AND SHORTLY BEFORE THE STATE FAIR, the NWSE SRC also reviews all projects to make sure students followed the applicable Rules.

ISEF provides additional descriptions that explain the SRC and the IRB.

Examples of SRC worksheets are in the Document Library.

Multiyear Projects

Students will be judged only on the most recent year’s research. Display boards must reflect the current year’s work only, except that the project title displayed in the Finalist's booth may mention years or which year the project is (for example: "Year Two of an Ongoing Study"). Supporting data books (not research papers) from previous related research may be exhibited on the table properly labeled as such.

Any continuing project must document new and different research (e.g. testing a new variable or new line of investigation, etc.) Repetition of previous experimentation or increasing sample size are examples of unacceptable continuations. For competition in ISEF, documentation must include the Continuation Project Form (7), the prior year's abstract and Research Plan. For projects continued for 3 or more years, abstracts for those earlier years are required.  Each page of prior work must be clearly labeled in the upper right hand corner with the years (ex: 2019-2020).

Team Projects at NWSES.
Small Team Projects (2 or 3 members) at the NWSES compete within the same categories as individual projects. These are eligible for all the same category and ISEF or Broadcom nominations.

A Small Team Project cannot be converted to an individual project or vice versa during a single year. A continuing project may add a new member or convert to an individual project, as long as one original team member remains.

Each member must submit a 1B or MS Super EZ Form. However, team members must jointly complete the online registration form, the abstract and all other required forms. Full names of all team members must appear on the abstract and forms.

2020 - 2021 Middle and High School Categories

NWSE reserves the right to divide or combine categories based upon the number of entrants. An effort will be made to notify students affected by category modifications, but such notification may not be possible due to time constraints. Categories may be entered by individuals or a small team (2 to 3 students.) There is no specific category for small teams.  

Special rule for small team projects
Each team should appoint a team leader; however, each member should be fully involved, familiar with all aspects of the project, and able to act as a spokesperson. The team must jointly submit one abstract and one research plan that specifically outlines each member's responsibilities. All team member names must appear on the abstract and on each form.

The International Science and Engineering Fair continues to update their categories for use at ISEF. The Northwest Science Expo System is not matching all 21 categories, but this list may be useful for determining which category your high school project should enter under as they have more detailed descriptions.

category description
Animal Science Study of animals and animal life, including the study of the structure, physiology, development, and classification of animals. Incudes ecology, physiology, development, animal husbandry, classification, animal behavior.
Behavioral & Social Science The science or study of the thought processes and behavior of humans and other animals in their interactions with each other and the environment studied through observational and experimental methods.
Biochemistry The study of the chemical substances and vital processes occurring in living organisms, the processes by which these substances enter into, or are formed in, cells and organisms and react with each other and the internal environment.
Cellular & Molecular Biology The study of the structure, formation, functions, and interactions of cells. Genetic manipulation. 
Chemistry The science of the composition, structure, properties, and reactions of matter, especially of atomic and molecular systems.
Computer Science & Robotics The use of software and/or methodologies to demonstrate, analyze, simulate or compute. All science and engineering in which the use of machine intelligence is paramount to reducing the reliance on human intervention.
Energy & Environmental Engineering

All science and engineering in which the management, refinement and/or conservation of energy is the goal.

The development of processes and infrastructure for the supply of water, the disposal of waste, and the control of pollution of all kinds. Includes bioremediation and biofuels.

Engineering: Bio-engineering & Materials The biological or medical application of engineering principles or engineering equipment to basic biological science problems. The development and study of novel characteristics and uses of natural and man-made materials that add to their performance.
Engineering: Electrical & Mechanical Electrical Systems in which information is conveyed via signals and waveforms for purposes of enhancing communications, control and/or sensing. All science and engineering in which there is movement. The movement can be by the apparatus or the movement can affect the apparatus. 
Environmental & Earth Sciences The analysis of existing conditions of the environment and their effect on organisms/systems.  Includes effects of natural products on biological processes. Study of structure and behavior of the earth and its components.
Mathematics The study of the measurement, properties, and relationships of quantities and sets, using numbers and symbols. The deductive study of numbers, geometry, and various abstract constructs, or structures. Mathematics is very broadly divided into foundations, algebra, analysis, geometry, and applied mathematics, which includes theoretical computer science.
Medicine & Health Sciences Biomedical and public health research that aims to improve the health of individuals and the community by translating findings into diagnostic tools, medicines, procedures, policies and education.
Microbiology The study of microorganisms, including bacteria, viruses, prokaryotes, and simple eukaryotes and of antibiotic substances.
Physics & Astronomy The science of matter and energy and of interactions between the two. The study of anything in the universe beyond the Earth.
Plant Science Plant development, physiology, evolution, ecology, photosynthesis, and growth.


Northwest Science Expo Middle School Categories: Fair director may swap types of projects into other categories or split categories to balance numbers for judges.

Animal Science
Animal Husbandry
Behavior of animals
Behavioral and Social Sciences
Human behavior
Social and community relationships-
public opinion surveys

physical chemistry
organic chemistry
inorganic chemistry

Computer Science and Robotics
Study and development of computer software and hardware and associated logical devices. 
Programming a robot.

Consumer Products Testing
Comparison of product quality, effectiveness, usefulness, economy, cost, smell, environmental friendliness, etc.
Earth and Weather Science 
Water Desalination
Planetary science

Alternative fuels
Fossil fuel energy
Energy efficiency 
Renewable:solar, wind, water, microbial, biofuel

Transportation/vehicle development
Aerospace and aeronautical engineering
Structural designs 
Materials & Materials testing

Environmental Science
Study of pollution (air, water, and land) sources and their control
Changes over time
Food Science
Food mold-following safety rules
Baking projects
yogurt, yeast and kombucha


Development of formal logical systems or various numerical and algebraic computations, and the application of these principles
Complex analysis 

Medicine and Health
Study of diseases and health of humans 
human genetics-fingerprints
speech and hearing
The science of matter and energy and the interactions between the two.
Plant Science 
Related to plant growth, health or death
Plant Physiology

A student may only have one project.

If you have questions about your category selection please contact Stephanie Jones at nwse [at] pdx [dot] edu.

Parts of the Exhibit

Project Data Book
A project data book is a required part of each exhibit. This is the "lab notebook": all notes, observations, ideas, experimental results, questions,calculations, and so on, are recorded in the project data book. Accurate and detailed notes demonstrate consistency and thoroughness to the judges. Judges want to see this and it can effect your judging to be without.

Research paper
A research paper is strongly recommended by both NWSE and ISEF at the high school level. Students aspiring to be ISEF Finalists should include a research paper with their exhibit. A research paper includes the following sections:


Every exhibit must display a copy of the project abstract. Each judge receives online access to the abstracts for the projects they will be judging; the abstract is the first part of the exhibit that the judges see. The abstract at the display must be an exact copy of the abstract submitted online so as not to confuse judges.

The abstract is a short summary of the project. The maximum length of an abstract is 250 words. The body of the abstract is generally one paragraph. Science projects and engineering projects are different, so there are directions for each.

For a Science Project
First, begin the abstract with a statement that indicates the purpose, problem or focus of the investigation. The second part of the abstract provides further information needed to understand why the study was conducted. For example, you may describe prior research findings as a context for your question. By the time the reader reaches the end of this part of the abstract, it is essential the question you are investigation is clear. The third essential section is a brief summary of your procedures. Let the reader know the most important aspects of the design of your experiment. Mention any unusual or newly developed methods. Lastly, close the abstract with a direct statement of findings - a conclusion you might wish to see printed in a local newspaper's science section. Be sure to tell how your question mentioned previously was answered or perhaps not answered.

For an Engineering or Programming Project
Begin by explaining very clearly what you are designing. First state your design goal and the constraints on your design. The second part of the abstract provides further information needed to understand why the design is important or interesting. In the third part use a few sentences to describe your design itself. It is good to break your design into subsystems and tell what they do. Include how your design is supposed to meet the goals above. Describe how your design was tested. Lastly, close the abstract with a direct statement of findings - a conclusion you might wish to see printed in a local newspaper's science section. Be sure to include how well your design met the goals mentioned at the beginning of the abstract. If you must submit the abstract before obtaining reportable results, say so at the end of the abstract, being very careful to have defined the goals you described as your design. For further information on engineering projects click here.

Abstracts must be submitted at the Affiliated Fairs Online Registration site.

Visual Display
All research projects are presented as free-standing exhibits. Exhibits must adhere to the display regulations. Students who need electricity to power equipment or computers that are part of their exhibit must request it during online registration. Electricity is not to be used to light the display. Students must provide their own plug-grounded extension cords for reaching power connections on the floor, and duct tape for securing the extension cords. Not all requests will be honored. Complete display regulations can be found on the Display and Safety Regulations page of the NWSES Rulebook. A bigger display is not better. Judges want to be able to sit in front of the poster and easily read the information on it. Use your data book for additional graphs and data.

Middle School rules do not allow models or non paper props.

Approval Forms
Originals of all signed forms, certificates, and permits must be available at the exhibit. NWSES recommends that these be kept in a folder or notebook. They may be kept in a section of the project data book.

Poster Tips NWSES.pdf46.65 KB

Examples of Good Abstracts

Example #1
The purpose of this study was to determine if children between the ages of nine and twelve with dyslexia are able to read and understand with more accuracy passages presented when the positive and negative space is reversed (black background with white letters). It was hypothesized that the reading accuracy and comprehension of the dyslexic students would be improved with this reversal of positive and negative space. A test was created consisting of four paragraphs (two presented normally and two reversed) and two reading comprehension questions per passage. A total of 37 dyslexic students and 34 non-dyslexic students were tested. The students were given 90 seconds to read each passage, the reading comprehension questions were given and answered orally.

It was found that the dyslexic students made less errors when reading the passages presented on the black background. The reading comprehension of the dyslexic students was slightly improved by the reversal of positive and negative space. The reversal of the positive and negative space had no effect on the non-dyslexic students reading accuracy or comprehension. A chi-square test was completed comparing the black and white background reading accuracy for the dyslexic students. This test yielded a P-value of 3.46E-20 (a highly significant value). In addition a Comparison of Two Means test was also completed comparing background color, which also yielded significant results. Finally a 99% Confidence Interval was established, from which can be said with a 99% confidence that the mean reading errors of the dyslexic students will be 1.65 less when reading reversed passages. Thus, it can be concluded that it is beneficial for dyslexic students to read passages presented when the positive and negative space is reversed.

Example #2
Molecularly imprinted polymers (MIPs) are synthesis network polymers that contain recognition sited for specific molecules. MIPs are designed to bind the molecule that they have been imprinted with over other structurally similar molecules. The goal of this project was to create a beta- Cyclodextrin (BCD) based MIP imprinted with the amino acid L-Phenylalanine (L-Phe).

MIPs, which are prepared based on relatively weak intermolecular attractions between the template molecule and pre-polymer components, have decreased binding abilities in polar solvents. However, to be used in many practical applications in the future, MIPs will need to be able to function in polar solvents such as water. In this project, the goal was to synthesize a MIP that could bind L-Phe in an aqueous solution by using the hydrophobic attraction provided by the B-CD cavity.

MIPs were formed by polymerizing (crosslinking) B-CD with m-xylylene disocyanate (XDI) in the presence of L-Phe (template molecule). CuCl2 was used to increase the solubility of L-Phe in DMSO (dimethyl sulfoxide, solvent). Control polymers were formed in the same way, but in the absence of L-Phe and CuCl2. All polymers were thoroughly washed and dried to prepare them for rebinding studies and analysis.

The polymer obtained from the synthesis described was analyzed with IR spectroscopy, and the structure of the polymer was proposed.

Due to difficulties in removing background UV-V is absorption caused by the polymer or other contaminants in rebinding study solutions, the efficacy of the polymer in binding L-Phe over D-Phe in aqueous media was not confirmed, and will be the focus of future studies.

Example #3
This project presents a summary of a successful design, fabrication and testing of wind turbines mounted on a car roof for the purpose of extracting power from the kinetic energy (dynamic pressure) contained in the wind flow around the car. The placement of the turbine was based on aerodynamic considerations. Various design concepts were tested and evaluated. Drag tests were conducted that showed the turbine did not negatively impact vehicle performance. NACA (National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics) ducts were evaluated and shown to offer additional choice for turbine design and placement. The results obtained from the tests conducted in this research demonstrate the feasibility for the efficient extraction of energy from wind flow around an automobile. Literature research consisting mainly of a review of NACA reports supported the findings of this study.

Example #4
It is both natural and interesting to replace the ring of integers and field of real numbers with the ring F[x] and the field F((1/x))for a field F, and to try to use continued fractions in F((1/x))to solve Pell’s equation in F[x].

I hypothesized that the solvability of Pell’s equation in this context is equivalent to the eventual periodicity of the associated continued fraction (a non-trivial constraint for infinite F) and that such periodicity exhibits symmetry properties analogous to the classically studied case.

I proved my hypothesis, overcoming numerous obstacles not seen in the classical case, such as non-trivial units and lack of order structure. The method applies in characteristic 2, using a generalized form of Pell’s equation. The technique of proof is a mixture of non-Archimedean methods and polynomial algebra, the central breakthrough being a close study of the properties of a concept that I call a “reduced quadratic surd”. After proving some importance technical properties of reduced surd, I show that eventual periodicity of continued fractions implies the specific periodic and symmetric structure analogous to the classical case. I then use this result to prove that Pell’s equation has solutions if and only if the associated continued fraction is periodic – a result not seen in the classical theory.

As a result, the problem of Pell’s equation in F[x] and the periodicity structure of quadratic surds in F((1/x)) is solved for arbitrary coefficient fields F, giving us interesting insight into the classical case.

Display and Safety Regulations

Virtual posters or slide decks have different rules for size, no font should be smaller than 12 pts on a slide deck or 16pt on a virtual poster. School names, acknowledgements and photos of people not in the public realm are not allowed.

The following are for in person fairs.

Middle School Display Regulations
The poster is the first thing the judges see when they review your project. It is important to do your best and organize your information in a clear way. All exhibits need to have their MS Super EZ form and project procedures, either posted or in a lab notebook. The lab notebook can also hold additional graphs and data tables.

Size Requirement:
15 inches (38 centimeters) deep This is half the depth of a table
36 inches (91 centimeters) wide
74 inches (188 centimeters) high from top of table

Please note: a standard 4ft display board will fit nicely in this space. Also the goal of the science expo is to talk about what you have done, not recreate it.

Very Important Middle School displays can only have paper items attached to the poster board, items that do not fit on the poster may be placed in a binder to sit in front of the poster. The only exception is for computer science projects, where a laptop is allowed to display code. Do not decorate your poster with food, machine parts, glass, clay models etc. those things will be removed or covered.

Acknowledgments to specific people or organizations or School names are not allowed on the poster. Acknowledgments may be included in a research paper.

Allowed with restrictions:
Photographs- you must have permission to post a person's picture or make the person unidentifiable. You must also list the primary source of any photographs. If you are using pictures obtained from the internet, make sure to list the actual url, not a site that gathers images.

Electricity- only computer science projects will have access to electricity for the sole purpose of charging laptops. 

High School Display Regulations
Exhibits will be inspected by NWSE staff at check-in. If part of an exhibit does not adhere to the following regulations, or is considered unsafe, the exhibitor will be asked to remove that part of the exhibit. Exhibitors not following directions or conforming to regulations will be disqualified. All original signed forms including the abstract must be displayed on the table or in the project data book. Judges want to see your log book or data book.

Maximum Size of Display
30 inches (76 centimeters) deep
48 inches (122 centimeters) wide
74 inches (188 centimeters) high from top of table

In my opinion tall posters are hard for judges to read, a notebook with additional information is better.

Allowed at Display BUT with the Restrictions Indicated

Not Allowed at Display

Electrical Regulations
Due to limited electrical outlets, Intel NWSE requires all students wishing electricity to apply for it through online registration. Those requesting electricity will be sent an email requiring response for electrical approval. Requests to light exhibits or display PowerPoint presentations will be denied. Be aware that many times asking for electricity means you will not be with the rest of your category. Not being with your category is a disadvantage during judging.

Examples of Displays from NWSE Particpants