Zombie Burgers Final Episode: Making the Presentation Boards & Entering the Fair!

Join Alex in his final episode of the 6-part series “Zombie Burgers!” – a vlog about the process of doing and entering a middle school science fair.  Here Alex researches and formats the information from his science fair, sets up the display and prepares for the big day.  Learn how to print and arrange data for your own boards in this, final episode of Zombie Burgers, and stay tuned for more great vlog series from MisterScienceFair.com.


Patent Your Science Fair & Engineering Fair Ideas

Insider Science Fair Tip: Patent your ideas before or during your science fair

Some of the greatest ideas in the world had their start in a science fair.  From inspiring Nobel prize winners to become scientists, to actually unveiling groundbreaking new ideas, science fairs are no longer venues for mixing red-dye colored vinegar and baking soda, in a big pile of clay with a hole and calling it a volcano.  Nowadays, there’s real science going on.  More than not, science fairs of today are places for cutting edge science & engineering in the making, and brand new inventions.  Not only do many science fair projects end up becoming published peer reviewed research or even doctoral theses, but it turns out that many ideas you find at science fairs are quite patentable.  In fact, in recent years, students can receive patents as one of their awards.  Massachusetts was at the forefront of this new phenomenon.

What’s a patent?  A patent is a way that countries allow for people with great ideas to have a time-limited exlusive right to commercialize or license that idea.  It is effectively a government-condoned time-limited monopoly.  It is meant as a legal reward for coming up with innovative new ideas, and for putting in the effort to do the scientific testing behind those ideas, to help society and/or the economy as a whole.

Fish & Richardson is a patent law company in Boston with a formidable reputation and which has been in business for over a century.  In fact, they did the original patents for Thomas Edison and Alexander Graham Bell.  However, they recognize that not all the greatest ideas in the world come from geniuses, nor from adults.  For the past 5 years, they have been collaborating with the MA State Science & Engineering Fair to offer a very special award to the top students, with the most patentable projects.  The Fish & Richardson Patent Award is carefully selected by a team of experienced attorneys, who do their “judging” somewhat secretly in advance of the fair by reading through all the abstracts.  Then, after pre-selecting a number of projects to explore further, they judge for real and in-person at our annual high school statewide science fair, held at MIT (a good reason to make sure you are at your project at all times during the entire judging hours, even if you’re finished with your regular judges).  They select several projects which they deem original, unique and patentable and give out awards during the regular award ceremony, on a weighted scale based both on rank and “patentability”.

The important thing to note about science & engineering fairs is that they are generally speaking, public events.  So, if you have an unpatented idea, and you release it during a science fair, it can be “stolen” by just about anybody legitimately.  It’s important to have proper patent protection in place when doing public events.  A provisional patent (see the US patent process here: http://www.uspto.gov/patents/process/index.jsp) is a simple way to patent your idea easily with or without an attory for around $100 for a one year period, during which you can negotiate a license deal which may be able to pay the full filing fees (filing a real, long term patent can cost thousands to tens of thousands of dollars).  It offers full protection, but you one get one year.

Fish & Richardson’s patent award, however, is the full prosecution, using their world class attorneys, and can be valued on the upwards of $30K or even $40K.

Here are a few examples of projects which have won MSSEF Fish & Richardson patent awards and have received their full patents, as high school students:

  • Soap that changes color when you wash your hands long enough
  • A better more comfortable low cost back brace for people with severe back problems
  • A medical device that measures slight tremors and is able to predict epileptic seizures and severe episodes for people with neurological disorders
  • … to name a few – 100% of the students who win the patent award so far have received their full patents

So, enter a patent competition today – or consider filing a provisional patent before your science fair.  Not many young people do it — but it will win you big credentials if you do!




MisterScienceFair & NAACP ACT-SO Competition Results Announced

Pat & Adrian, with the "People Mover" machine, built for an award-winning science fair project over the course of several months
Barnas Monteith - aka MisterScienceFair - with student Adrian Niles, winner of the NAACP ACT-SO Science & Engineering Fair in Boston, MA

Barnas Monteith – aka MisterScienceFair – with student Adrian Niles at the Bridgewater South Shore Regional Science Fair;  Adrian recently became the top Gold science winner of the NAACP ACT-SO competition in Boston, MA

MisterScienceFair & NAACP-Boston announce the 2013 winners of the Boston NAACP ACT-SO competition on April, 2013.  The NAACP ACT-SO is comprised of local/regional NAACP chapter competitions, followed by a national competition in July, to be held this year in Orlando, Florida.

There are a number of different subjects covered by the ACT-SO competition, including Jazz, Dance, Poetry, Business, Architecture and others.   However, through collaboration with MisterScienceFair.com, local students were able to receive mentorship for the ACT-SO projects in science & engineering categories.

MisterScienceFair, along with NAACP, firmly supports the creation and expansion of new programs to help level the playing field of inquiry based science, in particular in socioeconomically disadvantaged neighborhoods.  With the Next Generation Science Standards coming out this year, it is likely that inquiry will become a more important part of science teaching across America.  More inquiry/hands-on science means greater need for lab resources, mentors and new science fair programs that offer a fair and equal opportunity for everyone to participate.

As a result, Adrian Niles, of Brockton, MA, a junior at Southeast Vo-Tech in Easton was able to enter and improve his project, throughout multiple competitions, and now has several chances to win at the National NAACP ACT-SO competition.

Congratulations to Adrian – not only for winning a top Gold Award, but also for such an awesome science & engineering project!

Adrian Niles, builder of the “People Mover” – a device similar to Dean Kamen’s Segway, won the top NAACP ACT-SO award in the Engineering category at the Roxbury YMCA. As a result of his gold award, he will compete in the NAACP ACT-SO Nationals with a all-expense paid trip to Orlando, FL. He is seen here with ACT-SO Committee Members Charlene Greene (left) and Supreme Richardson (right)

Here you see Pat Monteith, of MisterScienceFair.com, providing opening remarks to the NAACP ACT-SO competition award ceremony, held at the Roxbury MA YMCA.

Pat Monteith, providing opening remarks at the ACT-SO competition

Pat Monteith, of MisterScienceFair, providing opening remarks at the Boston NAACP ACT-SO competition


Zombie Burgers Science Project How-To Part 5: Documenting Results Phase

Alex, host of MisterScienceFair’s Zombie Burgers how-to video series, shows you how to document the results of your science fair project experiment.

Visit the last episode about how to set up your experiment here

NOTICE: We at MisterScienceFair applaud Alex for his excellent science fair work.  But, please note that we do not want you to have the impression that any of the companies mentioned in this video make harmful products.  Please keep in mind that this is just one experiment done for a middle school science project and does not reflect on the genuine quality of any of the products served by the companies mentioned in this video.   The project is done to demonstrate basic science concepts at the middle and high school level – but there are a number of variables not mentioned which could effect the outcome of this one experiment.  Experimentation using advanced scientific equipment by trained professionals would be required to determine if and what chemical preservatives are present in the meat  products mentioned by Alex.  MisterScienceFair.com does not necessarily endorse any opinions expressed in this video series.

Zombie Burger Science Fair Project Progress – Part 4: Experimentation Phase

Zombie Burger Experimentation Phase:

Alex takes you through more of his science fair project progress in the next episode of his Zombie Burgers science project creation documentary. Watch Alex as he goes to a drive through and orders burgers for his project. Then, watch as Alex does some careful work to separate control and variable groups for his experiment…

Visit or link to the last episode here: http://mistersciencefair.com/alexs-science-fair-project-zombie-burgers-part-3-researching-the-subject/

Alex’s Science Fair Project: Zombie Burgers Part 3 – Researching the Subject

In the third MisterScienceFair-exclusive installation of Zombie Burgers, Alex does background research on his science fair project about meat mold.  Since Alex’s project is about preservatives in fast food versus natural meats, there is already some background research on this subject, which he discovers using various web tools.  This vlog episode shows how Alex goes about finding resources for background references which are useful for his science fair project…

Also see: Zombie Burgers Science Fair Part 2 – Safety Review & Paperwork

and Zombie Bugers Science Fair Part 1 – Coming Up With A Science Fair Idea

Alex’s Zombie Burgers Vlog is exclusively produced for MisterScienceFair.com!

Zombie Burgers, Part 2 — Doing the Safety Review and Other Paperwork for Your Science Fair

In the last episode, after Alex chose his science fair project topic, he then had to manage all the paperwork, including approval, safety review, and planning out his experiments. This episode is the second installment in MisterScienceFair’s how-to vlog about doing a science fair, hosting and starring our young friend Alex, from Florida. His project studies how much preservatives are in fast food burgers, and why some burgers with lots of chemical additives never get moldy. Does that mean fast food burger meat is not as safe as natural meat?

Read more about Alex’s project and how-to-guide in the first vlog posting here:  Zombie Burgers Part One

Gender Schmender: Girls Love Science – Science Fair Participation By Girls Is On The Rise

“Girls Can’t Do Math” –  is a favorite sarcastic saying, from my colleague Penny Noyce at Tumblehome Learning.  She of course is very skilled at math, and an M.D., writer, editor and philanthropist among dozens of other things, who has served on various math and other educational committees (most recently, being appointed to the MA Board of Education).  Naturally, she does not really believe girls can’t do math – in fact, she has spent a lot of her life proving just the opposite, and that’s why she decided to co-write a song called “Girls can’t do math”, to make fun of the very idea that gender plays any role in mathematical intelligence.

For many years, those of us in education circles regularly sat around tables worrying that girls were not involved in science fairs, and weren’t doing as well in certain testing areas, particularly those involving math and engineering.  We would try to find ways to encourage more girls to try to think of science and engineering as fun.  It turned out, that new data suggests not only do girls enjoy science & engineering,(and according to recent testing, may be better than boys in these subjects), but girls now consistently outnumber boys in science fairs.  I remember the turning point, nearly 6 years ago, when in MA, we had a larger percentage of girls than boys entering the MA State Science & Engineering Fair, as well as related fairs.  And ever since then, the trend has continued in full force.

I had the great pleasure to attend the Science Club for Girls Catalyst Awards the other night in Boston.  A wonderful organization led by former tenure track biology academic, Connie Chow, and was pleasantly surprised to find one of my former mentors at Tufts, who is now President of the Museum of Science, winning an award for his contributions to increasing the number of girls interested in science and engineering.

Connie Chow, Speaking About the Myths of Girls and Science

So, for those of you who still somehow feel that gender, or race or anything else for that matter, plays a role in how much you can achieve in life, think again!

Science Fair or Science Unfair?

A lot of people talk to me about the fairness of science “fairs”.  Although I have not really gone through all the data nation-wide, it occurs to me that since the beginning of science fairs, there have always been certain high schools in every state that tend to take all the top prizes year after year.  They’re usually schools in the big cities, with all the universities/colleges and corporate laboratories around, or private/well-funded public academies with immense financial, mentoring and facility resources behind them.  I have heard this not just at my own fair, the MA State Science & Engineering Fair, but also in conversations with administrators of other state and international fairs too.  People often worry that the social and economic inequalities between regions play a major role in the quality of their schools’ teachers and facilities (and rightly so), but also their science fairs and other forms of inquiry learning and assessments.  Generally speaking, the highest need regions do not even participate in science fairs, due to lack of sufficient funds.  In fact, having spent the past several years living largely in China and Taiwan, I have seen first-hand substantial economic inequality, that goes on – and it’s far beyond just the education system.  So, naturally, teachers and students can get a feeling of dejection: “why should I bother?  we can’t win”.

Well, I am here to tell you that is entirely true that science fairs, are admittedly, in a way “science unfairs.”  There are indeed some built-in biases.  But I also believe there are social and other biases in standardized testing as well.  Some schools are in such high need areas that they can barely hire enough qualified teachers in order for students to pass basic testing, let along support an activity such as a science fair.  So, it is understandable that one can feel the odds are stacked against them in this type of environment.  There is however hope.  There is still a way to succeed.  Take it from someone who won the top prize at two International Science Fairs, from a school district without a local science fair program, and which was recently listed as one of the several most underperforming schools in the state, out of hundreds of districts.

As I have had some involvement in the policy side of science fairs, I’ve spoken with legislators as well as folks as high up as the Governor’s office to talk about how we can level the playing field and make science “unfairs” fair again.   I’ve also been involved with programs such as the MSSEF / Gelfand Charitable Trusts’ Curious Minds Initiative, which helps support the founding of science fairs and training of teachers in high needs districts.  This particular program is a small success story, and certainly we need many more of these, but the path is long and difficult – and somewhat expensive to do it right.

For those families and teachers who really want to engage in science fair projects, there are still ways that you can win, even when it seems the odds are completely against you.  Nowadays, judges are specifically asked to consider the resources available, when judging a project.  And it is because of that, you can still see first prizes handed out to small brown cardboard backed projects, and the high gloss printed 6 foot tall display board projects with an ipad on the table can still walk away with nothing.  Although it may not always be the case in every situation.  As science fair administrators, we consider science fairs an alternative assessment, a celebration of knowledge, and an opportunity for learning, rather than a competition.  We try to bring “fairness” to the fairs, in all situations.  However, while we don’t have the money to provide more teachers, resources and lab facilities to every school, we can certainly provide some level of teacher training (both for new teachers and new science fair administrators), assistance with SRC and setup of project plans, all the necessary paperwork, and many other forms of support.  We also like to share our personal knowledge and experiences and pointers to what we consider the best resources out there (that are either free or as little cost as possible), and that is what I aim to do with MrScienceFair.com.

Over many years of being on the “inside” of science fairs, I’ve seen tons of kids with virtually no resources at all win the very top prize.  And that is precisely why there is still a chance for everyone to win.  MisterScienceFair.com is chock full of information and tips, and it’s all totally free.  Use it to your advantage, and don’t worry if someone else has a more well funded school district or if other kids have bigger shinier boards – it doesn’t mean a thing.   Above all just try your best to do it, and have fun.

Zombie Burgers — Alex’s MisterScienceFair Project Vlog #1 – Making the Hypothesis

Alex, a 7th grader from Florida, takes you on a journey through his entire science fair project, from idea to science fair. Alex heard that there are known cases of real “Zombie Burgers” — fast food burgers which are filled with so much preservatives, that they somehow stayed ‘alive’ well beyond the time they should have been long gone. There’s even a case of a person who has kept a fast food burger for over 12 years out in the open, and there’s no sign of mold or decay after all that time. Alex’s hypothesis is that if you leave out fresh burger meat, ground and cooked at home, then it should be more perishable (able to get moldy, decompose faster). That’s because it is more natural and not full of chemicals. Believe it or not, the fact that it’s more perishable means that it’s fresher meat and actually healthier to eat. Alex wants to prove to people that even if they want to eat burgers (which usually aren’t considered a healthy food), they should try to avoid fast food and eat natural meat, to have the healthiest burgers possible. Join Alex on his science fair adventure, and see his progress, which we will post here and on Youtube, in regular installments!

See Alex’s first video, here:

MisterScienceFair.com is still under construction, but here is a sneak preview of some of the fantastic content you can expect to see on our site!