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Taste Tests and Other Science Projects with Volunteers

Certain kinds of science questions require input from volunteers. Whether the project involves a taste test or another kind of test, volunteers can be a key component for projects exploring human behavior and perception, human biology, or food sciences.

Taste Tests and Other Science Projects with Volunteers

Sometimes, a science project is all about you and the experiment. You have a question. You have a set of variables. You have a hypothesis. You have a procedure, and by following the steps, you will see what happens, make observations, and analyze your data to see if your hypothesis is supported by your experiment. Your results won't be subject to human behavior. Instead, you will watch what happens between your variables, observe and gather data, and draw conclusions. Some projects go that way.

But some projects require the human factor. For some projects, you need test subjects (or volunteers). You need to know what people think, or do, or like, or see, or how they behave in certain scenarios because your science question and hypothesis has to do with taste, or human behavior, or human memory or perception, or something else that you will analyze based on how people respond to the test you are running.

A taste test is a classic example of one kind of scientific testing situation in which a set of volunteers who can offer feedback on different recipes or techniques may be helpful. Maybe you are exploring gluten-free alternatives or lower-carb or even sugar-free solutions. Or maybe you are experimenting with the difference in preparation methods like chilling cookie dough before baking it compared to baking it immediately after mixing. Evaluating different formulations for homemade lip gloss might involve similar testing.

Keep in mind that many science fairs require quantitative rather than qualitative results. So a science project on cheesecake methods may involve gathering data about the final cheesecake's texture or surface when made different ways rather than simply asking which one tastes better. Similarly, a comparison of the use of different amounts of baking powder in quick breads can be quantitatively compared by measuring the height of corn muffins made from different recipes instead of simply running a taste test. (A taste test might be useful, however, to see if changing ingredient amounts or ratios "also" changes the taste.) But for some projects and science questions, answering your question may require data gathered from human subjects. (Note: Be sure and get permission to use human subjects before beginning any science project.)

Some projects may require testing of groups of people in an effort to draw conclusions about how people in certain groups (e.g., of different ages, gender, or location) respond to something. Exploring questions about human behavior and cognitive development, for example, may require that you run a hands-on test to compare how children of different ages approach something conceptual. The Piaget's Theory of Conservation: When One Cup of Water is Less Than One Cup of Water project is a great example of this kind of science investigation. Similarly, while the Stroop Effect will give you plenty to consider in terms of the human brain, what happens if you look at the Stroop Effect in terms of a person's age?

People Science

If working with human subject testing sounds intriguing, the following science project ideas may be of interest or may kickstart your thinking about something else you might want to test with your science fair project this year:

Record the Details

With a group of volunteers, there are many angles you can explore related to a science question, but make sure you are diligent about recording your data and recording information about each volunteer in your lab notebook. Noting categories like age and gender for each volunteer, for example, may be very important in analyzing your data, but there are numerous categories that may be relevant. Carefully tracking this kind of information about your volunteers may also open up new ways to analyze your data that you had not initially considered at the beginning of your project.

Check the Rules and Talk with a Teacher

Before beginning a project that involves human subjects, be sure and check with your teacher (or check science fair guidelines for your local fair) about experiments involving human subjects. Fairs affiliated with Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF), for example, may require an Informed Consent Form (permission sheet) from each participant. Refer to these Science Buddies documents for more information: Projects Involving Human Subjects and Scientific Review Committee.

For a look at a different kind of "survey"-based science project, see Survey Science: Asking Questions and Analyzing Answers to Test a Hypothesis.

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