International Rules and Guidelines FAQ

The ISEF SRC has attempted to provide answers to questions that they commonly receive on their e-mail account - 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.

Who should follow these rules?

The International Rules for Precollege Science Research: Guidelines for Science and Engineering Fairs are written to provide guidance to any pre-college student (K-12) doing independent research. It is a requirement of Society for Science & The Public-affiliated fairs that the students competing in its fair will abide by these rules. It is strongly recommended that the International Rules be followed by ALL students doing independent research, regardless of grade level.

How do I find the fair in my region?

All fairs and fair directors are listed on the Society for Science & The Public website at

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.

Does my project need prior review and approval?

All projects need an initial review by an adult sponsor which is documented on Form 1. Studies involving human subjects need additional review and approval by an Institutional Review Board (IRB). This board should be established at your school or your regional fair.

Studies involving vertebrate animals or potentially hazardous biological agents require an additional review and approval by your fair's Scientific Review Committee (SRC).

Hazardous chemicals, activities and devices require an additional review by a supervising adult and a Risk Assessment Form must be completed.

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 at, etc.

Can one committee serve as both an SRC and IRB?

Yes, if your committee includes a biomedical scientist, science teacher, school administrator and someone knowledgeable and capable of evaluating physical and/or psychological risk involved in a study involving human subjects.

Who can serve as a Designated Supervisor for my project?

The Designated Supervisor may be a teacher, adult sponsor, parent, university professor or scientist who will be directly responsible for overseeing the experiment. The Designated Supervisor need not have an advanced degree, but should be thoroughly familiar with the student's project and must be trained in the student's area of research.

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. The "projected" start date is the date you expect to start your project and is recorded when you complete Form 1A as you begin the review and approval process for your project. The "actual" start date is recorded when the review process is completed and the experiment begins.

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, manufacturer facility), and medical facilities. The form needs to be completed by the supervising scientist AFTER you have completed your work. In addition to submitting a Form 1C, you need to check the appropriate box on Student Checklist Form 1A, question 7.

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.

What abstract form must I complete?

The Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) has an abstract format that has been designed for use at this international event in May. However, there are many fairs that have different requirements for an abstract. Please consult your regional fair for the proper abstract format.

Can I culture potentially hazardous biological agents at home?

No - collection may be done at home, but the culturing must be done at a school or a lab, given the potential risks inherent in the process.

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

I am using a commercial water-test kit to test the presence of coliforms. Is this a BSL-1 or higher study?

No. This test is not considered potentially hazardous and could be done at any test site.

Should all studies using water or soil collected from the environment be considered 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.

Is there any agency that will certify a lab facility?

No, there is no outside certifying agency, but the facility must meet all criteria described in the "Laboratory Biosafety Manual" published by the World Health Organization and in the"Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories" published by CDC-NIH

Additional information on BSL-1 and BSL-2 facilities is available in the ISEF Guidelines for Biosafety Level 2 Laboratory Facilities & Operations - A Self-Assessment Safety Checklist

How do I know if a lab qualifies as a BSL-2 facility?

Descriptions of BSL-2 facilities are found in the World Health Organization (WHO) Manual, or Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories published by CDC-NIH

Additional information on BSL-1 and BSL-2 facilities is available in the ISEF Guidelines for Biosafety Level 2 Laboratory Facilities & Operations - A Self-Assessment Safety Checklist

Can I have a BSL2 laboratory at my high school?

While there is no formal certification process, a high school lab can attain BSL2 laboratory compliance.

Self-assessment and assurance must comply with the guidelines and practices described in the "Biosafety in Microbiological and Biomedical Laboratories" published by CDC-NIH and in the "Laboratory Biosafety Manual" published by WHO

The essential elements of these required guidelines and practices are listed on page 23 of the Rulebook (restricted access, minimum Class 2, Type A safety cabinet, autoclave available, personal protective equipment (PPE includes lab coat, gloves, face protection) and supervised by a knowledgeable laboratory scientist. This lab should be dedicated only to the function of serving as a laboratory (i.e., not serving concurrently as a classroom and a laboratory.)

Additional information on BSL-1 and BSL-2 facilities is available in the ISEF Guidelines for Biosafety Level 2 Laboratory Facilities & Operations - A Self-Assessment Safety Checklist

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

No - both BSL1 and BSL2 organisms are available from these supply houses. Also, some BSL1 organisms have the potential to be hazardous (a PHBA), thus a risk assessment must be performed for all projects involving microbes to assure safety.

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.

What is "informed consent" and what's the difference between consent, assent and permission?

Before someone participates in a study, they need to know what they will be asked to do and if there are any potential risks or benefits involved in the study so that they can choose whether or not to participate. They should never be forced or coerced to participate.

If the test subject is 18 or older, they give their “informed consent” when they are willing to participate. If they are under 18, they provide their “assent” when they are willing to participate while the parent or legal guardian gives “parental permission.” (These can be either verbal or written depending on the study.)

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 written 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 Form 4. If not required, the subjects must still give verbal assent/consent before participating in the study.

If the study is less than minimal risk, is anonymous, and is one of the following, the IRB can waive written consent: 1) normal educational practices, 2) the subjects’ behavior is not manipulated, 3) surveys of perception, etc., 4) physical activity that is only what is encountered in daily life.

Some IRB’s will allow studies of fellow students to be verbal assent/consent only, while others will be more restrictive and require written documentation of assent/consent and parental permission for all studies.

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

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

a) If the participant is 18 years of age or older, the survey can 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 a informed consent form is available in the Rulebook (page 37).

Additional information can be found in the ISEF Human Subjects 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. The animals can be used in non-invasive, non-intrusive, non-biomedical studies utilizing standard farming practices that do not negatively affect an animal's health and well-being.

When is an egg embryo considered a vertebrate animal?

For pre-college science and science project purposes, this occurs in frogs when the egg hatches and becomes a tadpole; for reptiles and birds, it occurs three (3) days prior to hatching (e.g., chicken eggs at 18 days).

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, are not considered invasive (e.g., insulin, vitamins).

Can a composting project be done at home or do we need to treat it as a PHBA study that needs preapproval and a 6A?

Composting studies are not considered PHBA studies and can be done at home. They do not require preapproval or that a risk assessment be documented on Form 6A. Instead, the student researcher, with the DesignatedSupervisor/Qualified Scientist, should complete a risk assessment before experimentation (using Form 3) to ensure that proper safety procedures will be followed.

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 to kill any blood borne pathogens and there are no identifiers (patient’s name, etc.), they are considered exempt from review and you should complete Form 3 to make it clear that the teeth are sterilized and how they are being supplied.

If they have not been sterilized, they must be treated as Potentially Hazardous Biological Agents (PHBA’s) and the study will require SRC review and pre-approval. You will need to handle them as though they may have a blood born pathogen and with your Qualified Scientist (QS), complete Form 6A, Form 6B, and Form 2.

If the teeth are identified with patient name, etc., the study needs to be considered a human subjects study with IRB preapproval and additional forms.

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 requiringForm 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 continuationof 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.

Can a study of mold growth still be done at home as long as it is disposed of at the first sign of mold or does it now have to be done at a BSL-1 lab?

A study of the presence of mold on food can be conducted at home as long as it is disposed of at the first sign of mold growth. The food source cannot be allowed to become a culture medium. If the student wishes to allow the mold to grow, it would be considered a culturing study which is prohibited at home. The food/mold must be sealed and taken to a BSL-1 lab such as the high school. If the container is opened for identification, sub-culturing, etc., it must be conducted in a BSL-2 lab.



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