Middle School Info

Middle School Announcement

This year the Northwest Science Expo for Middle School students is planning a hybrid fair in with in person judging on April 21, 2023. This means slide decks are due the week before the fair for judges to score. On the fair day each school will be assigned to either the AM or PM judging session. If your school is in the PM session, posters can be set-up either that morning or at lunch time. All registered students will receive in person interviews.

The number of projects you can send from your school is 12, with no more than two in the same category.  Parents must check with the school or fair director before adding projects. Schools with a history of participation have specific selection processes.

The final deadline for registration is March 16th. I am consolidating fees this year at $10 per project with completed paperwork and procedures by March 10th. March 11-16th are $20.

  • Projects submitted to NWSE must be scientific inquiry or engineering design research (i.e. hands on), library research projects will not be accepted.
  • There is a 12 project limit per school. A student may only do 1 project.


IMPORTANT: The receiving of forms is what determines the fee. All projects must be online. Do not send a check first.

2023 NWSE Due Dates:

Projects uploaded by March 10 are $10.
Projects uploaded after March 10 are $20 per project.
The final deadline is March 16th. No projects will be accepted after that date. 

Abstract and Slide Deck uploaded to registration by Friday April 14 (judges will be scoring projects using this information)

Interviews & Poster at PSU on Friday April 21 (posters should match the slide deck)

For a project to count as registered the correct forms for the project must be received. Required forms are either a signed MS Super EZ form and project procedures OR appropriate ISEF forms and procedures. Forms need to be uploaded to the Google Folder for the project. If all are in a single file, that file can be shared directly. If your district has restrictions on sharing Google folders, email Stephanie.

Please inform Stephanie if an invoice is required. If not, mail the check made out to PSU Foundation with your School Registration form.

The abstract section of the EZ form may be incomplete at the time of registration as long as it is updated online by the Friday before the fair.

Middle School Registration Process

Middle School students in 5th – 8th grade are highly encouraged to follow the NWSES Super EZ Rules for Middle School Projects. These rules allow some types of research projects involving human subjects, vertebrate animals, microbes, hazardous substances, and human and animal tissue. Please read the Super EZ Rules carefully. The adult sponsor takes the responsibility that these criteria are met. If they are not, the project will be disqualified at NWSE. The MS Super EZ form can be signed before, during or after experimentation.

The MS Super EZ Form is filled out online by the Adult Sponsor. It asks for the student’s email address (or a parent’s email), home phone number, grade, project title and a short summary/abstract of their project. After the form is printed each student needs to get it signed by their parent. A copy of their full procedures is also required for review. As long as the procedure is descriptive enough, it can be in the format chosen by the teacher. We suggest having students practice with a Making a Sandwich Procedure activity to see what level of detail is needed. A materials list can clarify strengths of acids, hand saw vs. chop saw, rocket type.  Safety questions for Hazards, Vertebrates and Microbes should be answered at the end of the procedures.

Those who desire to do a project outside of the Super EZ Rules may use the ISEF rules and forms. This will require their school to hold a Scientific Review Committee meeting with the school principal, a science teacher other than the adult sponsor, and a qualified scientist before the experiment is conducted. The qualified scientist must have experience with the type of project being conducted. See the ISEF rulebook for specific requirements.

 Currently there are 7 regional fairs affiliated with the NWSES. Only two of these fairs as well as NWSE accept middle school competitors (see the Regional Fairs list page for specific info). So while we encourage middle school students to compete at a regional fair before entering NWSE, it is not required. Some districts have middle school fairs, this includes Beaverton and West Linn Wilsonville, to select those who advance to NWSE. Schools with historical participation also have selection processes. Parents should not register students before checking with the school or state fair director.

Middle School Super EZ Rules

(Detailed explanations below table) * means a Safety Assessment is required as part of the procedures.

Type of ProjectAllowedAllowed with RestrictionsNot Allowed
Involving HumansPassive Observation (with no manipulation of the environment) Ingesting anything, exercise, surveys, tests, fingerprinting, heart rates
Involving Hazardous Chemicals, Activities and Devices* Safety Assessment for Hazards must be conducted and included in proceduresFirearms, explosives, Class III & IV lasers, DEA controlled substances, prescription drugs, radiation, strong acids or bases, liquid nitrogen, pressurized gas
Involving Vertebrate Animals*Investigations involving observation of zoo animals, wild animals or petsBehavioral studies of petsDrastic changes in home environment; negative reinforcement
Involving Human or Animal TissuesHair, hooves, nails and feathers; meat, eggs, meat by-products or pasturized milk purchased from a store; commercially prepared fixed tissue slides Anything else
Involving Microbe Cultures*Yogurt cultures; Baker’s and Brewer’s yeast purchased from a store; nitrogen-fixing, oil-eating or algae-eating bacteria in their natural environment; mold growth on food items stopped at first sign of mold; Studies of mushrooms and slime moldUnknowns from the environment, BSL-1 microbes. Must be done at school.BSL-2 or higher microbes Must be done in a lab with ISEF forms.

NWSES Super EZ Rules for Middle School Projects

Middle school teachers and students can use the Super EZ rules of the NWSES for basic investigations. These rules and their paperwork are designed to cover the most basic, safe, ethically clear and least hazardous situations. Some students will want to do more complex investigations and they will be covered by the more detailed ISEF rules and forms. The following is intended to outline which set of rules applies to which situations. Please contact me with your questions at nwse@pdx.edu.

While some projects are not allowed under Super EZ Rules, middle school students still may do research involving some of these situations if they receive pre-approval from their local IRB/SRC, follow ISEF rules and submit all the required ISEF forms. Please read through the ISEF rules before experimentation begins. Most ISEF forms need to be filled out and signed before experimentation begins. Teachers are authorized to have stricter rules for their students.

Human Subjects

Acceptable projects include observational studies of legal public behavior of children and/or adults where there is NO interaction between the researcher (or someone acting on behalf of the researcher) and his subjects. For example, it is acceptable for a student to observe how many children play on the monkey bars vs. the slide at the park but it is not allowed if a student observes how many children play on the monkey bars vs. the slide at the park and then asks the children why they prefer one over the other. A researcher may not manipulate an environment to observe how people respond to the manipulation. It is also unacceptable for a teacher to administer a survey or a test to her class on behalf of the researcher. It is acceptable to use data from the internet that is publicly available for analysis.

Not allowed under Super EZ Rules

  • Eating, drinking, or tasting anything, including food, candy or water
  • Exercise studies
  • Surveys or tests
  • Consumer products testing involving human subjects
  • Taking fingerprints
  • Measuring heart rates

Human and Vertebrate Animal Tissue

The following human and animal tissues are allowed using the MS Super EZ form. 

  • Hair, hooves, nails and feathers
  • Sterilized teeth
  • Meat, meat by-products, pasteurized milk, or eggs obtained from a food store and not consumed
  • Commercially Prepared fixed tissue slides

OK:  a student compares strength and texture of hair clippings after it is soaked in different concentrations of salt solution.  Not allowed: a student compares shape and size of teeth from a variety of “road-kill” animals or ALL other projects involving human and animal tissue, including those involving organs, non-sterilized teeth, blood and other body fluids.

Vertebrate Animals

MSEZ Checklist for Vertebrate Animals

If any of the following statements are true, the project is not MSEZ. ISEF forms and rules must be used. Any projects that end in death will not be allowed at the fair.

  1. I will buy an animal to experiment on.
  2. I will feed the animal food, vitamins or supplements not labeled for it.
  3. The animal died during this project.
  4. The animal got sick during this project.
  5. This activity is not normally performed by this type of animal. (for example: fish swim, cats don’t)
  6. This activity will cause the animal stress or fear.

MSEZ Safety Assessment for Vertebrate Animals

The following MSEZ Safety assessment questions need to be included in the project procedures.

  1. What type and how many animals will be used?
  2. Who will take care of the animals?
  3. What will happen to the animals after the experiment?

Two types of Vertebrate animal projects are allowed using the MS Super EZ form.

  1. Observational studies of behavior of animals in their habitat, including the home for pets and the zoo and nature for wild animals, where there is NO intervention or treatment.
    OK:  a student observes goldfish behavior during feeding time vs. non-feeding times on a normal feeding schedule. Not allowed: a student observes how the goldfish react to living in a dark closet.
  2. Behavioral projects for pets involving doing things that pets experience in everyday life such as a new food dish, supplemental treats (following label recommendations), a new toy. OK: a student observes which colored dish a dog prefers to drink from.  Not allowed: adding food coloring to water to see which color the dog prefers.

Pets are defined as animals not acquired specifically for a research project. Using pets owned by other people is allowed, as long as the owner of the animal is present.

Hazardous Chemicals, Activities and Devices

Projects involving the use of hazardous chemicals and devices and involvement in hazardous activities require direct supervision by a parent or teacher. 

MSEZ Safety Assessment for Hazards

The following MSEZ Safety assessment questions need to be included in the project procedures.

  1. List the hazardous chemicals, activities or devices that will be used.
  2. Identify the risks involved.
  3. Describe the safety precautions used to reduce risk, including location and supervisor.
  4. Describe the disposal methods used for hazardous chemicals.

Hazardous chemicals and compounds include acids, bases, and alcohol.  This includes household items like bleach, over-the-counter medicines, fertilizers and manure.

Hazardous activities are those that involve a level of risk above and beyond that encountered in the student’s everyday life. When in doubt, do the above MSEZ safety assessment.

Hazardous devices include laboratory equipment and power tools that require a moderate to high level of expertise to ensure safe usage. Solid rocket engines when unaltered and used according to manufacturer’s directions are allowed as long as safety assessment includes adult supervision.

Not Allowed

  • Firearms, explosives, fireworks, fire and fire extinguishers
  • Class III and IV lasers
  • DEA controlled substances, Prescription drugs and Tobacco
  • Radiation
  • Chemicals with a pH of 1 or 14 (very strong acid or base)
  • Liquid nitrogen
  • Pressurized gases

Microbe Cultures

MSEZ Safety Assessment for Microbes

The following MSEZ safety assessment questions need to be included in the project procedures for every microbe experiment:

  1. What types of microbes are involved?
  2. What risks are involved?
  3. What safety precautions will be used to reduce risk?
  4. What disposal methods will be used?
  5. Where will the research be conducted?

The following microbes are approved without special precautions, but tasting the product as part of the experiment is not allowed:

  • Baker’s or Brewer’s yeast purchased from a store
  • Studies involving Lactobacillus, nitrogen-fixing, oil-eating bacteria and algae-eating bacteria introduced into their natural environment. These are not exempt if cultured in a petri dish environment, ISEF rules must be used.
  • Studies of mold growth on food items if the experiment is stopped at the first sign of mold.
  • Studies of mushrooms and slime mold.

The following microbe projects can only be conducted at school or a research lab following Bio Safety Level 1 protocols as stated for unknown specimens:

  • Decomposition or mold growth experiments either on nonfood items or those that continue beyond the first sign of mold on food
  • Unknown specimens obtained from the environment, not a living creature
  • Bio Safety Level 1 microbes specifically listed below

Regarding Unknown Specimens

Studies involving unknown microorganisms present a challenge because the presence, concentration and pathogenicity of possible agents are unknown. In science fair projects these studies typically involve the collection and culturing of microorganisms from the environment like soil, household surfaces, water, etc.

Research with unknown microorganisms can be treated as a BSL-1 study under the following conditions:

  1. The organism is cultured in a plastic Petri dish or other standard non-breakable container and sealed. Other acceptable containment includes petro film and doubled heavy-duty (2-ply) sealed bags.
  2. The experiment involves only procedures in which the Petri dish remains sealed throughout the experiment, for example counting the presence of organisms or colonies.
  3. The sealed Petri dish is disposed of in the appropriate manner by autoclaving or bleach solution by the teacher or Designated Supervisor.
  4. All BSL-1 containment procedures are followed.

Not Allowed:

  • Opening a culture for identification, sub-culturing or isolation
  • Swabbing in an area with a high likelihood of fecal contamination i.e. bathrooms and litter boxes
  • Swabbing a person

Regarding Bio Safety Level 1 Microbes

The only BSL-1 organisms approved for middle school use under the MSEZ rules are: Escherichia coli strain K12 and Pseudomonas fluorescens. All BSL-1 containment procedures must be followed.

BSL-1containment is normally found in water-testing laboratories, in high schools, and in colleges teaching introductory microbiology classes. Work is done on an open bench or in a fume hood. Standard microbiological practices are used when working in the laboratory. Decontamination can be achieved by treating with chemical disinfectants or by steam autoclaving. Lab coats are required and gloves recommended. The laboratory work is supervised by an individual with general training in microbiology or a related science.