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:

  • If the project is behavioral, a psychologist, psychiatrist, or individual with human behavioral training must serve on the IRB.
  • For subjects under 18, student researchers must obtain written informed consent (Form 4) from all subjects and their parent/guardian when the IRB determines that more than minimal risk is involved.
  • Neither the Adult Sponsor nor the Qualified Scientist who oversees a specific project is permitted to serve on the IRB reviewing that project.
  • Consequently, neither the Adult Sponsor nor the Qualified Scientist may sign the SRC portion of (1B) Approval Form. This eliminates conflict of interest.

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:

  • biomedical scientist (Ph.D., M.D., D.V.M., D.D.S., or D.O.)
  • science teacher
  • at least one other member


  • If you live in a rural area and do not have access to a degreed biomedical scientist, you must enlist the services of someone from another geographic area. You should send the Rules and necessary forms to that person so he or she is familiar with the procedures.
  • One of the SRC members must be familiar with proper animal care procedures when animal research is involved.
  • Neither the Adult Sponsor nor the Qualified Scientist who oversees a specific project is permitted to serve on the SRC reviewing that project.
  • Consequently, neither the Adult Sponsor nor the Qualified Scientist may sign the SRC portion of Approval Form (1B). This eliminates conflict of interest.

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

  • evidence of proper supervision
  • use of accepted research techniques
  • completed forms, signatures and dates
  • humane treatment of animals
  • compliance with rules and laws governing human and animal research
  • appropriate use of recombinant DNA, pathogenic organisms, controlled substances, tissues and hazardous substances and devices

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.