WHAT IS A SCIENTIFIC PROJECT?
A Scientific Project is a systematic study of a problem carried out to find a rational solution to the problem. A scientific study involves definition of the problem, making
hypothesis, observation, collection of data through survey and/or experimentation, analysis of data, drawing of conclusion(s) and proposing solution of the problem.
In National Children's Science Congress (NCSC), children in the age group of 10-17 years undertake scientific project on problems they observe in the environment around them. The children do the project with their own level of knowledge and throw light on various aspects of the selected problem. They do it through study, survey and/or experimentation.
The child scientists like other scientists, generate new knowledge and, thus help the future generation. A scientific study paves the way for practical solution of a vexed problem. In a scientific study the approach needs to be well planned and systematic; otherwise errors may creep in. An unsystematic study may lead to the aggravation of the problem involved, rather than to its solution. Jumping into quick and erroneous conclusions is in fact considered unethical in the scientific community. As such, a lot of responsibility comes on the children as they decide to work on a project. They should be careful enough to ensure that their study and project report reflect only truth and are free from errors. It may appear to you as a very difficult job; but you won't find it difficult if you combine your intelligence with honesty to carry out your project systematically. In a project you do study, survey, experiment and analysis of data, which are followed by drawing of conclusions, meant to solve the problem involved. Now comes the vital step of solving the problem in the real sense. This calls for putting your suggestions into force and solving the problem to a large extent, though it may not be solved completely.
WHAT SHOULD BE THE APPROACH?
Once you decide to carry out a project, you have to follow some definite steps.
WHAT TYPE OF PROJECT SHOULD BE TAKEN UP?
You can select any project you like, which can be related to the main theme of the Congress. A project to be done by children in NCSC need to be completed within a short span of time (3-6 months), and done with the limited knowledge they have on the topic. Every two years a focal theme at the national level is selected for the Children's Science Congress. Such a theme encompasses a lot of sub-themes. The themes and sub-themes are always related to the society and the environment we live in. Your topic should fall within one of the sub-themes (Please refer to this year's information brochure on NCSC) and have a direct relevance to the society and the environment. The project should be such that it is within your capabilities and fits into your time frame. Remember that this project is an extra-curricular activity you are getting involved in and so this should always be done in spare time only (may be during the summer vacation). NCSC never advocates your spending valuable time on this project alone, as you know, NCSC is an effort to inculcate scientific temperament amongst all through experiments and experience. Keeping this in mind, select an apparently small yet relevant local problem and concentrate on finding out ways to solve it. In fact, there is nothing called 'a small problem' irrespective of whatever it needs to be studied in the laboratory with sophisticated equipment or not. It will be helpful to adopt simple experiments to analyse the different aspects of the problem instead of resorting only to survey and observations. In broad sense, the projects for the National Children's Science Congress can be divided into two categories
(a) Survey based and
(b) Experiment based
(a) Survey Based Project: There are two types of Survey Based Projects. In the first type, data collection is carried out with the help of questionnaire associated with the project topic. For example, a project related to expansion of education in a particular locality or community. In the second type, data collection is carried out directly from the specimen or specimens involved with the project topic. For example, you are going to survey on different species of local fish present in different water bodies in a particular region. In this case, you will have to collect the names of species of local fishes either by directly inspecting the water bodies or from the fisherman and experts.
Majority of the projects undertaken by our child scientists are of the two types as mentioned above. In the second type of survey-based projects, although a scientific inference could be drawn, it depends on the perseverance and minute observation capability of the child scientist. In the first type of survey-based projects, number based data are more prevalent than scientific data. Thus, this type of projects lead to some relatively acceptable social conclusion instead of proper scientific inference. Such projects have little role to play in finding the scientific and logical solution of a problem. From our previous experience, we have been observing that some of the child scientists had asked absurd and unscientific questions as - “Do you have mango trees in your home garden? Do you have flower garden in your home? Is your village street a paved one?” etc., during door to door survey. The answers of such questions could be directly obtained by observation instead of questioning. However, survey may be essential for certain projects related to topics like, vanishing indigenous technologies of a race or community; diminishing scientific attitude of the people of a locality, etc. Similarly, for collecting the local names of certain plants, fishes or other organism, questionaire based survey may be required. Nevertheless, one should always remember that survey can help only to take practical measures or to scientifically analyse the problems of a project. It is difficult to accomplish a true scientific project only through survey.
(b) Experiment Based Project: Experiment based projects are different from survey based projects. In this type of projects instead of collecting data from individuals or organisations; these are acquired directly from experiments carried out by child scientists in a laboratory or in field conditions. The primary aim of NCSC is to build up scientific attitude along with the development of the knowledge of the scientific study among the children of our country. Therefore, more emphasis has been given or experiment based projects. Consequently, it necessitates to give a detail discussion on the methodology of experiment based project. For conducting an experiment based project, one has to adopt the existing universal procedure, which consists of the following seven steps.
3. Formulation of hypothesis
5. Collection of data
6. Analysis of data
7. Conclusion or inference
The projects undertaken for NCSC have also to be completed through the above mentioned steps. However, documentation of the project should be done according to
certain standard rules, which is necessary to maintain a uniform standard throughout the country.
The problem associated with your project has been referred to as the "phenomenon" as mentioned above. In the first step you have to observe carefully the problem or the "phenomenon". The second step comprises of formulating legitimate questions as to the occurrence of that phenomenon. After considering all the probable reasons a hypothesis regarding the phenomenon is developed. Then the hypothesis is subjected to tests or experiments. Sometime you may have to change the hypothesis, if it cannot be established with the help of experiments or tests. In such a case, you have to develop a new hypothesis, which is again subjected to separate tests or experiments.
The data acquired from the results of the tests or experiments are then analysed. Finally, a conclusion or inference is drawn from the analysis of the data. The conclusion or inference also helps to derive the solutions of the problems of the concerned project. Let us consider an imaginary project to illustrate the above mentioned procedure. The
child scientist of this project has noticed that the leaf tips of majority of the plants of their garden have been dried. The disease has been particularly severe in case of newly formed leaves (observation stage). Why it has happened? What are the probable reasons of the disease? On seeking the answers to the above questions, the group considered three
probable reasons as the causes of the disease (hypothesis).
1. Pest attack
2. Fluctuation of soil pH
3. Deficiency of mineral nutrient.
To ascertain the exact reason the child scientist then conducted a set of experiments. At first, he applied pesticides on the diseased plants. After a few days he observed that the disease has not been cured. Therefore, he cancelled the first probable reason. Then he tested the soil pH, which showed that there has not been any significant fluctuation of soil pH. Thus, he concluded that the second probable reason is also not applicable. To test the third probable reason he selected two diseased plants present at two opposite ends of the garden. In one of the plants he applied NPK fertilizer while in the second one he applied a mixture of trace elements (mineral nutrient). After a few days he observed that the second plant began to produce healthy leaves without dried leaf tips. Thus from the experiments he concluded that observed disease was caused by deficiency of a particular mineral element.
Projects should contain the following features:
Specific Subject Matter: The subject matter of the project should always be specific and clear. The specificity and clarity of the subject matter depends upon the area and aim of the project. For example, a project topic like “Study on the cultivation of Joha paddy of Sasoni village” or “Study on the nutritional values of local varieties of paddy around Naharkatia” is more specific and clear than a topic like “Study on the cultivation of food grains of Dibrugarh District” or “Study on the nutritional values of food grains”.
Measurability: Measurability means determination of values, quantity, amount, etc. through
measurements. The subject matter of the project should possess at least some degree of
Relevance: The subject matter of the project should possess practical utility. Moreover, it should be directly related to the main theme of NCSC.
Realistic objectives and role: the aim and methodology of the project should possess realistic objectives. It is desirable to think in an innovative way keeping a realistic view.
Time Frame: the subject matter of the project should be selected in such a way that, it could be completed within a stipulated time period. The study period should not be more than a period of six months.
DATA ANALYSIS AND DRAWING CONCLUSIONS
After you have collected data from experiments, observations and/or surveys, these data need to be analysed to draw conclusions/ inferences. Looking at the questionnaire/survey forms it is difficult to draw conclusions as the forms contain a lot of information hidden in them. You should analyse your data properly and make them presentable. It is wiser to represent your results and conclusions using a single diagram/ figure rather than pages of written report; figures/ diagrams make a report much more interesting and understandable While drawing conclusions you must try to focus at the important areas. Conclusions, which are very apparent, need not be given importance (for example, all people who were surveyed drink water regularly cannot be a conclusion. Without water human beings cannot survive).
Please note that your report should be concise and you should not unnecessarily go on adding pages to your report. Unnecessary increase in volume of the report reduces the overall quality of the project. However, your project report should clearly reflect your achievements during the project work.
SOLUTION TO THE PROBLEM
After the steps like observation, survey, experiments, data analysis and drawing conclusions, you have to take steps to solve the problem in the real sense. You must find a
more or less permanent solution to the problem under study. For example, if you are working on a project on household solid waste, you may conclude that the waste should be composted (ordinary compost or vermicompost). The solution should be tried first in your own house and then in the houses of 10/15 of your neighbours. Has the problem eased to some extent? Find an answer to this question and record your findings in the report.
N.B. The steps of a project discussed above are given simply as a guideline. There is no compulsion that you follow all the steps we suggested. If you think that you have a better way of doing the project, then go ahead. Your project will fit in NCSC as long as you do not deviate from the basic guidelines.