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Creating a successful bioplastics science fair project!

Hi everyone. I guess I’ll first introduce myself before I start. I’m Ferhat Avdić. I come from Bosnia and Hercegovina, a little country in South-east Europe. I’m an 18 years old student and I had the chance to participate on project olympiads so that’s why I’m writing the article in first place. Now let’s move on to stuff you will hopefully have use of. I’ll be speaking of my experience using bioplastics as my project, and of what you are expected to do if you want to compete in a science fair or project olympiad.

To keep you interested I will tell you right away: I won a bronze and a silver medal with my bioplastics project.

So what is the goal of a bioplastics project?

Bioplastics are a very good alternative to conventional plastics reducing the world’s plastic waste. Unlike conventional plastics, bioplastics are fossil fuel independent and are biodegradable. The main purpose of a bioplastics project is to prove their usability and biodegradability. So to prove the usability of bioplastics, you need to make your own, home-made biopalstics. Creating one sheet of bioplastic is not enough for a project. You need to create lots of different samples, all with a different formula. After measuring the properties of your samples and after you compare them, you will find the right ratio between the ingredients of your bioplastic. At the end you will have a bioplastic utensil as a result, which you can be proud of and which will probably be your winner project.

What are the critical spots of a project?

– Background info about your topic

– Abstract of your project

– Your experiment (variables, hypotheses, materials used, procedure, observations, data tables, graphs, graphs’ analysis, conclusion)

– Research paper (this is usually optional but a research paper is the evidence of all the work you did)

– References

– Display

What shall you focus on while doing a bioplastics project?

  1. To make a good project, you must perform an experiment. Otherwise none of your work will be taken seriously by the judges. If you are not sure what a real experiment actually is, or what parts is an experiment made of, take a minute and search about it on Google. In your case, the experiment is measuring the bioplastic properties by performing tensile tests. While performing such a test you can measure properties of your plastic like tensile strength, stress, strain, elongation, and stiffness. The obtained data from the tests can be written in data tables and afterwards presented in graphs. Having data tables and graphs in a project is necessary to win.

Your plastic is biodegradable, but who will believe it if you don’t prove it? Testing the biodegradability of your plastic and taking evidence of it is as important as the tensile tests!

  1. Write all the information I mentioned in the critical spots of a project in a research paper. Keep the background info you researched for yourself and write a 1-2 page introduction to the problem you are solving and the alternative you use.
  1. Judges always check your references. Make sure you mention some real books as references because web pages alone are not so welcome.
  1. Make the display look organized and clean. Don’t apply too much colors, winner displays are usually simply made. Don’t forget to shoot some pictures of yourself doing the experiment so you can put them on display later. The display shall contain all the information you will be talking about at the exhibition, that means introduction to your experiment and all the information obtained during your experiment. Have in mind, the display of your project makes the first impression!

About the jury and judging:

The jury expects to see something unusual at your stand. They expect to see your very own creation/experiment there. You need to get them interested in your project and to impress them with your exhibition. If you have a bioplastic bag you made yourself at home, they surely never saw anything like it. Be focused and don’t forget any of the stuff you want to show or tell to the jury. (You can write down simple notes to remind yourself about anything.) Don’t be surprised if the jury doesn’t judge your project by the true criteria. This happens a lot at science fairs. You just make sure to get the jury interested in what you exhibit and everything after that will be a lot easier and more effective.

Where did I compete?

I took a part in Burch Olympiad 2012, Bosepo 2013 (10th place out of 51 – silver medal) and Burch olympiad 2013 (3rd place out of 57 – bronze). These two competitions are “project olympiads” where you share your project to others and get judged by the jury. Afterwards the best projects win awards like medals, money, etc.

These are only in my country, but there are international competitions where anybody can compete if they got the money to travel. You might live in the country where one of such competitions is held so it would be a shame if you don’t take a project and exhibit it there as you got the chance to.

Why shall you compete?

Such competitions are real fun! The judging is not the only thing that happens there. Important is the friendly atmosphere. Everybody is there to share their idea with others and many people actually make friends. At the end, if you did well, you get money and a medal.

About my bioplastic bag:

Before it stretches it can hold up to 4,5 kg and it holds up to 7 kg before it tears apart.

Ingredients: water, corn starch, glycerine, bovine gelatine, lemon juice, edible colors.

Ratio between ingredients: nobody will ever tell you their secret of their invention, believe me.

To all who chose bioplastics as their science fair project:

You won’t regret it. Bioplastics definitely solve a big environmental problem and this project meets all the formally required criteria at competitions. Usually you don’t have a whole website supporting the topic you chose, but in case you chose bioplastics you can get any support needed, thanks to Greg Stevens.