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10 Great Research Topics for Middle School Students

Middle school is the perfect time to start exploring the fascinating world of research, especially if you're passionate about STEM and the humanities. Engaging in research projects now not only feeds your curiosity but also develops critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and a love for learning. Whether you're intrigued by the secrets of the universe, the beauty of numbers, or the complexity of robotics, there's a research project that you can pursue to help you build your knowledge. Let's dive into some advanced yet accessible research topics that will challenge you and enhance your academic journey.


1. Program your own robot

What to do: Start by defining the purpose of your robot. Will it be a pet robot that follows you around, or perhaps a robot that can help carry small items from one room to another? Sketch your design on paper, focusing on what sensors and motors you'll need. For instance, a robot that follows light might need light sensors, while a robot that avoids obstacles will require ultrasonic sensors. Use an Arduino or Raspberry Pi as the brain. You'll need to learn basic programming in Python (for Raspberry Pi) or C++ (for Arduino) to code your robot's behavior.

  

Tips to get started: The official websites for Arduino and Raspberry Pi offer tutorials for beginners. For more specific projects, such as building a pet robot, search for guides on Instructables that detail each step from hardware assembly to software programming.


2. Design a solar-powered oven

What to do: Investigate how solar ovens work and the science behind solar cooking. Your oven can be as simple as a pizza box solar oven or more complex, like a parabolic solar cooker. Key materials include reflective surfaces (aluminum foil), clear plastic wrap to create a greenhouse effect, and black construction paper to absorb heat. Experiment with different shapes and angles to maximize the heat capture and cooking efficiency. Test your oven by trying to cook different foods and measure the temperature achieved and cooking time required.


Tips to get started: The Solar Cooking wiki is an excellent resource for finding different solar cooker designs and construction plans. YouTube also has numerous DIY solar oven tutorials. Document your process and results in a project journal, noting any changes in design that lead to improvements in efficiency.


3. Assess the health of a local ecosystem

What to do: Choose a local natural area, such as a stream, pond, or forest, and plan a series of observations and tests to assess its health. Key activities could include water quality testing (for pH, nitrates, and phosphates), soil testing (for composition and contaminants), and biodiversity surveys (identifying species of plants and animals present). Compile your data to evaluate the ecosystem's health, looking for signs of pollution, habitat destruction, or invasive species.


Tips to get started: For a comprehensive approach, NOAA’s Global Monitoring Laboratory provides information on atmospheric and environmental monitoring techniques. Tools like iNaturalist can assist in species identification, and water and soil testing kits are available from science education suppliers.


4. Develop an educational app

What to do: Identify a gap in educational resources that your app could fill. Perhaps you noticed that students struggle with a particular math concept, or there's a lack of engaging resources for learning a foreign language. Outline your app’s features, design the user interface, and plan the content it will deliver. Use MIT App Inventor for a drag-and-drop development experience, or Scratch for a game-like educational app. Test your app with classmates or family members, and use their feedback for improvements.


Tips to get started: Both MIT App Inventor and Scratch provide tutorials and community forums where you can learn from others’ projects. Begin with a simple prototype, focusing on one core feature, and expand from there.


5. Model rocketry: design, build, and launch!

What to do: Dive into the basics of rocket science by designing your own model rocket. Understand the principles of thrust, aerodynamics, and stability as you plan your rocket. Materials can range from simple kits available online to homemade components for the body, fins, and nose cone. Educate yourself on the proper engine selection for your design and the recovery system to ensure your rocket returns safely. Conduct a launch in a safe, open area, following all safety guidelines.


Tips to get started: The National Association of Rocketry is a treasure trove of information on model rocket safety, design, and launch procedures. For beginners, consider starting with a kit from Estes Rockets, which includes all necessary components and instructions.


6. Create a wearable electronic device

What to do: Envision a wearable device that solves a problem or enhances an aspect of daily life. It could be a smart bracelet that reminds you to stay hydrated or a hat with integrated LEDs for nighttime visibility. Sketch your design, listing the components you'll need, such as LEDs, sensors, a power source, and a microcontroller like the Adafruit Flora or Gemma. Plan your circuit, sew or assemble your device, and program it to function as intended.


Tips to get started: Adafruit’s Wearables section offers guides and tutorials for numerous wearable projects, including coding and circuit design. Start with a simple project to familiarize yourself with electronics and sewing conductive thread before moving on to more complex designs.


7. Explore the science of slime and non-Newtonian fluids

What to do: Conduct experiments to understand how the composition of slime affects its properties. Create a standard slime recipe using glue, borax (or contact lens solution as a safer alternative), and water. Alter the recipe by varying the amounts of each ingredient or adding additives like cornstarch, shaving cream, or thermochromic pigment. Test how each variation affects the slime’s viscosity, stretchiness, and reaction to pressure.


Tips to get started: The Science Bob website offers a basic slime recipe and the science behind it. Document each experiment carefully, noting the recipe used and the observed properties. This will help you understand the science behind non-Newtonian fluids.


8. Extract DNA at home

What to do: Use common household items to extract DNA from fruits or vegetables, like strawberries or onions. The basic process involves mashing the fruit, adding a mixture of water, salt, and dish soap to break down cell membranes, and then using cold alcohol to precipitate the DNA out of the solution. Observe and analyze the DNA strands.


Tips to get started: Detailed instructions and the science explanation are available at the Genetic Science Learning Center. This project offers a tangible glimpse into the molecular basis of life and can be a springboard to more complex biotechnology experiments.


9. Investigate the efficiency of different types of solar cells

What to do: Compare the efficiency of various solar panels, such as monocrystalline, polycrystalline, and thin-film. Design an experiment to measure the electrical output of each type under identical lighting conditions, using a multimeter to record voltage and current. Analyze how factors like angle of incidence, light intensity, and temperature affect their performance.


Tips to get started: Introductory resources on solar energy and experiments can be found at the Energy.gov website. Consider purchasing small solar panels of different types from electronics stores or online suppliers. Ensure that all tests are conducted under controlled conditions for accurate comparisons.


10. Study ocean acidification and its effects on marine life

What to do: Simulate the effects of ocean acidification on marine organisms in a controlled experiment. Use vinegar to lower the pH of water in a tank and observe its impact on calcium carbonate shells or skeletons, such as seashells or coral fragments. Monitor and record changes over time, researching how acidification affects the ability of these organisms to maintain their shells and skeletons.


Tips to get started: NOAA’s Ocean Acidification Program offers educational materials and experiment ideas. For a simpler version of this experiment, see instructions for observing the effects of acidified water on eggshells, which are similar in composition to marine shells, at educational websites like Science Buddies.


By pursuing these projects, you will not only gain a deeper understanding of STEM principles but also develop invaluable skills in research, design, and critical analysis. These projects will teach you how to question, experiment, and innovate, laying the groundwork for future scientific inquiries and discoveries.



One other option – Lumiere’s Junior Explorer Program

The Lumiere Junior Explorer Program is a program for middle school students to work one-on-one with a mentor to explore their academic interests and build a project they are passionate about.  Our mentors are scholars from top research universities such as Harvard, MIT, Stanford, Yale, Duke and LSE.


The program was founded by a Harvard & Oxford PhD who met as undergraduates at Harvard. The program is rigorous and fully virtual. We offer need based financial aid for students who qualify. You can find the application in the brochure


To learn more, you can reach out to our Head of Growth, Khushi Malde, at khushi.malde@lumiere.education or go to our website.


Multiple rolling deadlines for JEP cohorts across the year, you can apply using this application link! If you'd like to take a look at the cohorts + deadlines for 2024, you can refer to this page!


Stephen is one of the founders of Lumiere and a Harvard College graduate. He founded Lumiere as a PhD student at Harvard Business School. Lumiere is a selective research program where students work 1-1 with a research mentor to develop an independent research paper.


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