Intel ISEF Rules FAQ

Frequently Asked Questions about Intel ISEF Rules

The ISEF SRC has attempted to provide answers to questions that they commonly receive on their e-mail account,, about the International Rules and Guidelines. If there is a question that you would like to see added to this FAQ list, please e-mail the SRC the question and suggest that it would be good to post.

How do I find the fair in my region?

All fairs and fair directors are listed here.

Can my regional fair rules be stricter than the International Rules?

Yes, a local or regional fair may develop rules that reflect the laws, regulations and or local concerns of the geographic region or school district that it serves. It is important to consult the information provided by your regional fair to ensure that you are aware of any of these differences with the International Rules.

Where do I send my research plan and other paperwork to get pre-approval for my project?

Each affiliated fair must have a Scientific Review Committee (SRC) and an established Institutional Review Board(s) (IRB). If your teacher or adult sponsor does not have this information, contact the affiliated fair director who can be found by searching the Society for Science & The Public fair network.

Can I continue working on my project between my regional competition and the Intel ISEF?

Yes, as long as the active research period is no longer than 12 months in an 18-month period. And remember, that if you plan any significant changes or expansions of your research plan, be certain that you have received the proper approvals prior to starting the new phase of research.

How do I determine the “start date” of my project?

The start date of your project is when you begin to collect data for your experiment. The literature review and the design of your study will occur prior to your start date.

If I conduct my study in a location other than a school or home, do I need a Form 1C?

A Form 1C is required for experiments or equipment use on projects in research institutions, commercial or college laboratories, government or industrial settings (i.e. machine shop, manufacturing facility), and medical facilities. The form needs to be completed by the supervising scientist AFTER you have completed your work.

How do I determine if a chemical is hazardous?

Ask your supervising adult and consult the Material Safety and Data Sheet (MSDS) for the chemical(s) you plan to use. Some MSDS sheets (e.g. Flinn), rank the degree of hazard associated with a chemical. Generally a rating more than 1 should be considered hazardous. It is possible that two or more chemicals ranked 0 or 1 when mixed can react and form a hazardous chemical.

Can I use last year’s forms?

It is strongly recommended that a student use the current year’s International Rules as they are modified annually. However, for projects that will begin prior to the publication and posting of the current year’s rules on the Society for Science & the Public website (posted by June 1), it is permissible to use the previous year’s forms. Please consult with your regional fair to ensure that this is an acceptable practice or whether they would prefer that you update the forms that have changed significantly from a previous year.

How do I find out the Biosafety level of an organism?

Visit the website for the American Biological Safety Association at or the American Type Culture Collection (ATCC) at

Should all studies using water or soil collected from the environment be categorized as one involving potentially hazardous biological agents?

No. Even though water and soil could contain potentially pathogenic organisms, studies involving these samples are considered potentially hazardous only when the sample is cultured. The use of a coliform test kit to determine the presence of coliform bacteria does not categorize the project as one involving potentially hazardous biological agents.

How can I determine if my laboratory is a BSL-1 or BSL-2 laboratory?

There are no outside agencies which certify BSL 1 or 2 laboratory facilities.  There are criteria published by the World Health Organization and CDC-NIH which list the guidelines and practices required to attain BSL-1 and BSL-2  compliance.  These criteria are described in the World Health Organizations “Laboratory Biosafety Manual”   and in Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories published by CDC-NIH.

The criteria are available for ISEF affiliated fairs as self-assessment checklists for laboratories serving as sites for BSL-1 and BSL-2 studies.  These checklists are available on the ISEF website.  High school biology laboratories normally meet the BSL-1 criteria.  If BSL-2 studies are being conducted in a high school lab, it is recommended that the BSL-2 checklist be completed to document that all of the criteria are met.

Can I order organisms from a biological supply house and be assured that they will be a BSL1?

No, both BSL-1 and BSL-2 organisms are available from these supply houses.

What is a blood by-product?

Blood by-products result from the separation of blood and can include red blood cells, plasma, Factor 8, etc. These products must follow the rules of Potentially Hazardous Biological Agents (PHBA), as their handling and use can require special safety precautions.

When do I need to get written consent?

Your local IRB, after reviewing your research plan, will decide if you need to get documentation of informed consent (for adults), assent (for minors) and parental permission or if only verbal consent is required. If written consent/assent/parental permission is required, it is documented on the sample in  Forms. If written consent is not required, the subjects must still give verbal assent/consent before participating in the study.

How do I get written informed consent if I do a survey on the internet?

If the IRB determines if written informed consent or parental permission is required, then:

a) If the participant is 18 years of age or older, the survey must contain a statement of informed consent that those taking the survey can read and check a consent given prior to continuing with the survey. This “check” can be considered documentation of informed consent.

b) If the participant is under 18 years of age, the parent/legal guardian must give permission by signing and returning a informed consent form to you. A sample of an informed consent form is available in the Rulebook.

Additional information can be found in the ISEF Human Participants Risk Assessment Guide

Could I use my farm animal in my science project?

Yes, farm animals may be used at a “non-regulated [research] site”, i.e., farm or ranch using only standard agricultural practices.

What is meant by “invasive” procedures?

This includes all procedures involving entry into a living body by an incision, and/or by insertion of instruments, tubes, probes, etc. Injections for the health of an animal, as directed by a veterinarian, as prescribed by a veterinarian are not considered invasive (e.g., insulin, vitamins).

I’d like to do a study using extracted teeth from a dentist’s office. What forms do I need?

If the teeth have been sterilized and there are no identifiers (patient’s name, etc.), the teeth do not need to be treated as potentially hazardous biological agents.  However, if the teeth have not been sterilized the project requires prior SRC review and approval and treated as a BSL-2 study.  You will need forms 2, 6A and 6B.  If the teeth can be identified with a specific person, the research must also be reviewed and approved by an IRB and you will need forms 4 and documentation of informed consent.

I did a team project last year, but my teammates all graduated. Can I do a follow up study without them or with a new partner? Would it be a continuation study?

Yes, you can either switch to an individual project this year or add new team members. You are not permitted to make changes during the research year. It would still be a continuation of the previous work requiring Form 7.

I don’t believe my project is a continuation study. I want the judges to know that I’m doing all new things this year with my project even though it’s in the same field. Why do I need to call it a continuation and to complete Form 7?

Although many student researchers are worried that calling their project a continuation will present them negatively in a judge’s eyes, this is not the case. Most professional scientific research is a continuation of some kind, either of the researcher’s own work or based on the work of other scientists.

Judges like to see exactly what you have done this year, what you learned from your previous work, how last year’s study led to this one, and how your study is related to previous findings. Additionally, the Scientific Review Committee (SRC) must review your project before you are allowed to compete to ensure that this year’s study is not just a repeat of your previous work. Completing Form 7 gives the SRC and the judges all this information to effectively evaluate your project.

To decide if your project is a continuation or a stand alone, totally different project, it sometimes helps to ask yourself if there is anything you learned in your last study that is helping you in this study, if a question arose that led you to this study or if you will be referring to anything from the previous study. If yes, it is considered a continuation.

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