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This past summer, I came up with a research project that I wanted to pursue (I am in high school). At first, I thought that the experiment would take about a month. However, I experienced more problems than I could have ever imagined. Finally, over half a year later (and after hours upon hours of research), I ran my experiment. During the whole research process, I believed that my alternative hypothesis would be supported. However, it wasn't.

I will be presenting my research at science fairs very soon, but I fear that all of my hard work will be overlooked because of my negative result. Is this fear warranted? Is there anything that I can do to ensure that this does not happen?

  • 2
    A falsified hypothesis is not a null result. – Greg Mar 13 '17 at 5:37
  • I have little experience with Science Fairs, but in my experience research that has not led to positive results can be fairly well received if the research has been done very carefully, but the bar you need to pass is high. That is, if most people believe that A -> B, and your experiments show no support for A -> B, then there is a danger that people will conclude that you did not do your research carefully or claim that it is "obvious" that A !-> B. – xLeitix Mar 13 '17 at 9:01
  • If the context is a science fair, maybe you could reframe your result in a positive way (as in: reword the result as showing that you proved a positive), i.e. "you would think A implies B, but my research shows they are unconnected". – dimpol Mar 13 '17 at 11:51
  • Could you please post the instructions provided for participation in at least one of these science fairs? // In general, when preparing your poster, and when standing next to your poster, answering questions about your project, be upbeat and honest, and focus on what you learned (e.g. about experimental technique). – aparente001 Mar 14 '17 at 14:14
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Short answer: No.

I have judged science fairs in the Southern US for many years. The "negative result" is not going to affect how highly you are ranked. I once supervised high school students who won the local science fair competition and went on to be semi-finalists in the Siemens competition. Their project was mostly comprised of "negative" data suggesting that a newly reported finding in the scientific literature might be wrong: link to their project. Their "negative" data was later used in a major scientific paper link (Notice how the title contains two instances of NOT; basically a paper entirely made up of "negative" data).

Science fair projects are mainly judged on:

  • Clarity of presentation
  • Adherence to the scientific method
  • Logical conclusions based on the data
  • Coming across as professional, knowledgeable, enthusiastic, and personable during the interview

What you should do:

  • Emphasize why it was important to test your hypothesis in the first place.
  • Critically analyze why the results did not support your hypothesis. Of course, the hypothesis could have been wrong, but could you have tested it in other ways? Is a technical problem a possibility (it always is)? Could you tweak your hypothesis in a way that it would explain the experimental results?
  • Think about alternative hypotheses and how those could be tested. Be prepared to discuss these during your presentation.
  • Focus on preparing an awesome looking poster,
  • Do not be negative or unenthusiastic during your presentation. This cannot be emphasized enough. Keep in mind that 95% of the experiments that a scientist performs "fail". And most science fair judges know this!

Good luck!

  • As another science fair judge, this is a fantastic answer. I'll add: also please critically analyze your experiment to see whether you could have done anything differently yourself. – eykanal Mar 15 '17 at 15:32

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