IRIS national fair is one of the best opportunities for Indian STEM students to showcase their scientific research skills. Not only do the winners go to ISEF, the world's most competitive high school-level science competition, but it’s a high-quality environment for STEM students in India to test their research.
However, interested students have often struggled in their preparation due to a lack of resources on this fair. In this guide, we will give you comprehensive information on the fair and what it takes to win.
What is the IRIS National Fair?
Initiative for Research and Innovation in STEM (IRIS), is a research–based national level fair for students in India held annually in January. It is primarily known as a feeder to the ISEF, the world’s largest international pre-college science competition held annually in the U.S. You can check out our detailed ISEF guide here. Having begun as the Intel Science Talent and Discovery Fair in 1999, IRIS has been providing a platform for Indian students to showcase their research since 2006.
While IRIS is not very well known in India due to the lack of popularity of science fairs in the country compared to the US, it is still considered an important event in the field and one that enjoys support from various stakeholders. The Department of Science and Technology, Government of India, along with Broadcomm and Exstemplar are sponsors of IRIS.
How do you participate?
Around 100 students are selected to exhibit at IRIS in January every year. These students are selected through either direct applications or IRIS-affiliated school-level science fairs.
While most of the students apply to the IRIS directly, in 2013, IRIS partnered with India’s 5 school-level science fairs (mentioned below) to expand its reach and attract more talent.
Winners from these fairs are selected for IRIS and invited to regional mentorship camps for guidance on participation in IRIS. Information is not available on the number of winners sent to IRIS from each of these fairs but it might differ based on the number of participants. For the CBSE science exhibition, 25 candidates are shortlisted out of which 5 entries are sent to IRIS following a mentorship camp.
The other way to participate at IRIS is to apply directly through their website. Most students apply through this route. The timeline mentioned below will help you understand the process in case you apply independently.
Students are expected to apply with their projects in September/October. As you will see on IRIS’s social media channels, the deadlines are often extended to give students a chance to submit their work. Your project will go through a screening process after which you will be informed about whether or not you have been shortlisted in November. Those shortlisted for the national fair will exhibit in January.
The shortlisted students (whether they applied directly or through school-level fairs) will compete for the ultimate prize of ISEF along with some other prizes. Those selected will go through a mentoring camp to prepare them for the event in the US in May.
What is the eligibility criteria?
Students of Indian Origin of Class 5 to class 12 residing and studying in schools based in India are eligible to participate individually or in a team of two.
Research-based projects or novel engineering designs qualify to participate at the IRIS National Fair. Hence, your project must be original in content and should be substantiated with data collected from experimentation, if appropriate.
Engineering projects should have novelty improvements over the existing solutions.
IRIS will not consider any project synopsis for evaluation or participation from a student who has registered for a previous IRIS as a student of class 12. No appeal will be entertained on the basis of the student appearing for re-examination through any government or private organization/ institution.
There are 21 categories under which students can submit their projects. These categories can be found here.
How prestigious is IRIS? What is the prize?
IRIS National Fair is prestigious mainly because it offers students the opportunity to participate in ISEF. The top performers represent team India at the international level!
While the website does not mention the various categories of awards, we know that there are various organizations that sponsor special awards that are given to exceptional student projects. For instance, USAID presents the Science Champion Award to exceptional students or teams whose projects have the potential to make an impact on addressing international development challenges.
Another interesting and little-known fact is that IRIS has two spots reserved at the Research Science Institute (One of the most prestigious summer programs in the world)! While the IRIS website does not mention this, Stuti Bhatia - last year’s IRIS finalist - confirmed this information for us.
How to submit your project
Projects can be submitted on the IRIS website through their portal. The portal is currently closed and will open closer to the submission deadline (September/October).
To create an account on the portal (whenever it opens up), go to this link and enter your details. After registering you will get an email to confirm your registration.
Following this email, you can log in to your account. This will lead to a dashboard where you will be able to see the following items:
The next step is to fill out the details for your account.
You can then add your project to your dashboard. Additional details regarding what exactly you need to submit at this stage will be available when the portal opens up.
Based on our conversation with Stuti (mentioned below), we know that you will be required to submit a synopsis of your research along with a video that details your research and what it is about. During Covid, when the fair was held virtually, students were asked to submit an additional video however this may not apply this year since the fair is being held in offline mode.
Based on this submission, around a hundred students are shortlisted to present at the national fair.
A Finalist Case Study - Stuti Bhatia
Given the limited open-source information available on IRIS, we spoke to Lumiere alumna Stuti Bhatia, who was selected for the fair last year. Stuti worked on her project with a teammate.
Stuti worked on developing aid for Alzheimer's patients. Alzheimer's patients have symptoms that include forgetting the faces of people or misplacing objects. Some even have trouble navigating within their own homes, and that causes a lot of frustration, not only for the patient themselves but also for caregivers. Stuti and her teammate wanted to see if they could develop something that would help avoid this frustration.
Their project essentially aided patients in facial, object recognition, and navigation. They analyzed existing tech in the market and looked at ways to make cost-effective versions of available technology. Using Rasberry Pi along with different algorithms, they created a device that could be worn on spectacles to give audio feedback through the speaker. They entered their project under the behavioral science category and while the team did not make it to ISEF, Stuti and her teammate won the Science Champion Award (sponsored by USAID).
We spoke to Stuti about her experience of participating at IRIS and about some winning strategies.
Finding out about IRIS: To fill the gaps in her knowledge about the fair, she spoke to students who had participated in the fair in the past. Her team had a mentor based in Mumbai who guided them through some of the procedural aspects of the fair.
Nature of winning projects: Stuti feels that there has been a gradual transformation in the kinds of projects that win at IRIS now. From hardcore research-based work, we are witnessing a transition to innovation-based projects. One will see a lot of projects related to assistive technology and machine learning. It is always geared towards solving some sort of problem. The scale can be different or the communities that the problems affect can be different, but usually, there is an issue involved. She also mentioned that a lot of projects tend to get repeated. Topics like vision for the blind, and other assistive technologies are some such examples.
How she decided what to work on: Stuti’s own project was also based on this understanding of the recent trends. When she was trying to identify topics for her teammates, they realized that they knew someone who had Alzheimer's. There's a lot of stuff for the diagnosis of diseases and hence this seemed like an interesting project to work on. She also remembers one project that she found very interesting, which was aimed at addressing the problem of human-elephant conflict. Another one that she recalled was regarding oral cancer. Stuti recommends other candidates also adopt this approach of identifying a problem in their community and centering their work around it.
On mentorship: She believes mentorship is very important. Especially in the early stages because there aren’t too many resources online and it's hard to consolidate what you want to do and the kind of technology you need to use to tackle the problem that you've selected. But, she also mentions that once you've figured out what it is that you want to study, all the research is up to the student.
Overall experience of participating at IRIS: Stuti enjoyed her experience at IRIS. One of the reasons was that she had already participated in similar events previously which allowed her to prepare well for IRIS. She feels that this allowed her team to be confident while talking to the judges since they had been in similar situations before.
7 Tips on How to Win from Lumiere
Based on our interaction with Stuti as well as our guide on ISEF, we have some strategies that you might find useful if you are aiming to compete at IRIS.
Have a mentor: Stuti told us that many IRIS finalists had external mentors. While some students were doing their research under professors, others were involved with STEM centers. This highlights the important role that mentors play in the research process. Science fairs are not a big part of the academic culture in India and most Indian students are not exposed to research processes and methodologies. Thus, having a mentor can help you kick off your research journey with ease.
Put extra hours into your synopsis: Your synopsis will present an accurate idea of your project to the Scientific Review Committee during the screening stage. It is a very important document and you need to fill it in completely, to indicate the what, why, and how of the project. Even if your research is extraordinarily good, unless you are not able to communicate it well in your synopsis, you will never get a chance to present it. Make sure you go through the guidelines for how to draft the synopsis.
Test your prototype well before the fair: Many engineering students work on projects that have a prototype that is presented on a final day. Make sure you test this prototype under different conditions to prepare well. The last thing you want on the final day is a glitchy prototype. Even Stuti recommended that all those who reach the national fair should make sure that the prototypes have been stress tested to prevent any mishaps.
Find your niche: It is hard to bring out good quality research if you lose interest midway in the face of some research-related roadblocks. One way to avoid this is by choosing an area that you are genuinely passionate about. Make sure your choice of area of research is driven by pure interest (and not an assessment of what category is easier). While Stuti offered an interesting insight into the nature of projects that tend to do well, these decisions should not come at the cost of letting go of your interests.
Seek inspiration from winners! We recommend all interested students check out the project database of IRIS to look at the kinds of research that students have done in the past.
Prepare your presentation well: Stuti prepared for the interviews in detail. She and her teammate even checked the educational backgrounds of the judges to gauge the kind of questions that may be asked. Mock interviews and rapid-fire rounds with your mentor can be useful in preparing yourself to perform well under a high-pressure environment. Even simply asking your friends to question you on your research can prove to be a helpful strategy.
Start your project as early as possible: Research takes time! Especially for students who haven’t been exposed to it in the past. A good research project has months of effort behind it.
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you’re looking for a mentor to do a science fair like IRIS or want to build your own independent research paper, then consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program. Last year over 2100 students applied for about 500 spots in the program. You can find the application form here.
You can see our admission results here for our students.
Manas is a publication strategy associate at Lumiere Education. He studied public policy and interactive media at NYU and has experience in education consulting.