Projects Involving Hazardous Chemicals, Activities, or Devices
Some research projects may involve working with hazardous chemicals, activities, or devices.
- Examples of hazardous chemicals include alcohol and tobacco, prescription drugs, DEA-controlled substances, firearms, explosives, and chemicals subject to federal, state, or local regulations.
- Examples of hazardous activities are those that involve a level of risk higher and beyond that encountered in the student's everyday life.
- Examples of hazardous devices are those whose operation requires a moderate to high level of expertise in order to insure safety. Devices invented by students are considered potentially hazardous devices and often require a risk assessment.
To insure the safety of student researchers and their home and school environments, many fairs require pre-approval of these types of projects.
Pre-approval Is Required
If you are participating in a fair that follows the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) rules, and your project falls into one of the mentioned categories, then your project must be reviewed by officials from your fair before you start. These officials are called a Scientific Review Committee (SRC). Often school science fairs and fairs for the primary grades or middle school rely on the teacher's judgment to insure safety, so their rules might be different. For complete information, consult the rules for your local fair, or the ISEF Rules and Guidelines.
Direct Supervision Is Required
For ISEF-affiliated fairs, all experiments involving hazardous chemicals, activities, or devices must be carried out under the direct supervision of an adult supervisor (Designated Supervisor in ISEF jargon) that understands the risks associated with all parts of the project. For projects involving DEA-controlled substances the adult supervisor must be a competent scientist (Qualified Scientist in ISEF jargon) that has been licensed by the DEA for use of the substance.
A Risk Assessment Is Required
The student and adults involved in the project are required to think ahead about the possible hazards that the project might involve. This analysis is called a risk assessment. The goal of the risk assessment is to protect the student by considering all potential risks and taking the appropriate safety precautions. The risk assessment will be reviewed by the SRC as part of the pre-approval process.
Many household items (hot stoves, sharp knives, power tools) can be hazardous, especially if used improperly. A risk assessment is required if operation of the device requires a moderate to high level of expertise to ensure safety. The same principle holds for laboratory equipment. For example, hot plates and Bunsen burners may not require a documented risk assessment, whereas other devices such as high vacuum equipment, heated oil baths, NMR equipment, UV lights, lasers, and high-temperature ovens require documentation of a risk assessment.
Explore Our Science Videos
How to Build an ArtBot
Make a Slushy! Yummy STEM Project
Physics and Chemistry of an Explosion Science Fair Project Idea