Science fairs are an excellent way for students to display curricular and co-curricular competence in STEM fields. Not only do they test your skill of conducting rigorous research, but also your ability to communicate it effectively to an audience.
In this guide, we will tell you everything you need to know about the Terra STEM fairs - a group of regional science fairs that give you access to advanced fairs like the Genius Olympiad and ISEF!
What are the Terra STEM Fairs?
Terra STEM Fairs are basically ISEF-affiliated regional fairs that are sponsored by Terra Science and Education, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization founded in 2011 for the improvement of K–16 education. The fairs are popular mainly because they are feeder fairs to ISEF apart from leading to other competitions and fairs (as discussed later). Every public, private, or home-schooled student in grades 5-12 in a Terra Fairs county can compete in their fair.
You may already know that you cannot participate directly at ISEF itself without first qualifying through ISEF-affiliated fairs. An affiliated fair is basically a research-based, high school competition that is a member of the Society for Science’s (ISEF organizer) affiliated fair network. These competitions exist in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, and more than 75 countries, regions, and territories and are conducted at local, regional, state, and national levels.
The Terra STEM fairs are basically regional fairs that enjoy sponsorship from Terra. Terra pays their ISEF affiliation fees, covers expenses for selected finalists, and provides chaperonage for the Terra Fairs’ student qualifiers. The fairs play a key role in 40 counties in NY, NJ, and PA, including five NYC boroughs.
How competitive are the Terra fairs?
Practically all feeders to ISEF are selective by virtue of how popular and competitive ISEF is. However, there are some regional fairs that are known to be particularly more competitive.
Terra fairs come in that category. It is considered very competitive because of the high quantity of applications and strong projects that are presented. For example, in TNYC 2022, more than 500 students submitted their projects but only 15 top students qualified for ISEF. This gives the fair an acceptance rate of less than 3%!
What do you win at the Terra Fairs?
Terra Fairs advance their top high school students to the International Science and Engineering Fair and the GENIUS Olympiad. The number of students who qualify for ISEF and Genius varies from fair to fair. Additionally, middle and high school students can also represent their regional fair at other state and national competitions like the Broadcom Masters, New York State Science Congress, and the Stockholm Junior Water Prize. In most of these competitions, the top places lead to qualification for ISEF.
High School students in the Senior RED Division who receive an award at a Terra Fair may publish their research in the International Journal of High School Research after the submission and review process. We have covered this journal in a detailed manner previously.
What are the rules regarding participation?
Like any ISEF-affiliated fair, Terra fairs come with their own paperwork, logistical details, and procedural elements that you need to take into consideration very carefully. We will go through the main aspects here but we highly encourage reading our complete guide on ISEF to complement this information.
There are two general project divisions known as a) Research and Engineering Design (RED) and b) Topic Presentations. Both divisions are organized into Senior (high school, grades 9-12) and Junior (middle school, grades 5-8) Levels.
RED projects involve data collection in a scientific experiment or throughout multiple iterations with an engineering design. RED students compete for Fair Honors, Special Awards, and state, national, and international advancement.
Topic Presentations Division students make a model or learn about a particular topic outside the usual school curriculum for their grade. They prepare a report and poster and compete for Fair Honors and some Special Awards. Students in grades 5-12 may present in this division, however, typically students choose Topic Presentation Division as a “beginner year” to become familiar with the fair experience. Advanced students may also use a Topic year for their planning and training in research techniques.
As is the case with most ISEF-affiliated fairs, the rules are fairly standard with minor variations that occur mainly due to differences in federal and state laws regarding certain research-related aspects.
The best way to familiarize yourself with the rules of the fair would be to visit the website of the fair that you fall under. Terra’s stateside Terra Fairs include the following. They serve grades 5-12 unless otherwise noted:
Terra Twin Tiers Science Fair (T3SF) in Bradford, PA serving students in six counties (Allegany, Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, NY; McKean, Potter, and Warren, PA).
Terra North Jersey STEM Fair (TNJSF) in Union, NJ serving high school students in ten North Jersey counties (Bergen, Essex, Hunterdon, Middlesex, Morris, Passaic, Somerset, Sussex, Union, Warren).
Terra Rochester Fingerlakes Science and Engineering Fair (TRFSF) in Rochester, NY serving students in nine counties (Chemung, Livingston, Monroe, Ontario, Schuyler, Seneca, Steuben, Wayne, Yates)
Terra Northeast Regional Science Fair (TNRSF) in Potsdam, NY serving students in four counties (Clinton, Essex, Franklin, St Lawrence).
Terra New York City STEM Fair (TNYCFair) in New York City, NY serving high school students in five boroughs (Bronx, Brooklyn, Manhattan, Queens, Staten Island) serving only grades 9-12.
Terra Western New York STEM Fair (TWNYSF) in Buffalo, NY serving students in five counties (Erie, Genesee, Niagara, Orleans, Wyoming).
Terra Science and Education also manages two international fairs serving students in grades 5-12 – Terra Americans Abroad STEM Fair (TAASF) and Terra International Students STEM Fair (TISSF) – which coordinate with other Terra Fairs for access to ISEF.
Terra Science and Education is also the sponsor of the following ISEF-affiliated regional fair as the Terra Partner Fair:
Dutchess County Regional Science Fair (the first New York State fair to become an ISEF affiliate), in Poughkeepsie, NY.
Standard for many science fairs, participating in ISEF and all its regional fairs requires completing a bunch of paperwork to make sure that you meet regulatory research requirements. The forms that you have to fill out will vary based on what you are conducting research on and how. For example, if your research involves surveying people, the forms that you will fill out will be different from the forms you will complete if your research involves biological samples.
Given how complicated this logistical process is, ISEF has developed an awesome webpage that will give you the exact list of forms relevant to your research. Please ensure that you take all these forms seriously.
Scientific Review Committee
There is a diagram to help determine if a project needs SRC pre-approval. However, to summarize, this will be required for most projects involving human participants, vertebrate animals, and potentially hazardous biological agents.
To help you make a bit more sense out of this, we found an awesome diagram that will walk you through some of the important forms that you will need to fill out:
For most high school students taking part in Terra fairs, a standard application and participation procedure can look like this:
At the time of Registration:
Create an account and provide the information about you and your project. If you participated in previous Fairs, you'll still need to create a new account for this year.
Download, Complete, and Upload ISEF Form 1-Checklist-for-Adult-Sponsor.pdf
Download, Complete, and Upload ISEF Form 1A-Student-Checklist.pdf
Download, Complete, and Upload ISEF Form 1B-Approval-Form.pdf
Download, Complete, and Upload any other ISEF forms as directed by the registration software (Found at https://www.societyforscience.org/isef/forms/)
Upload your Abstract
Upload your Project Description (Your abstract should fully describe your project. The Project Description should be 2 to 3 sentences briefly describing what your project is about that’s understandable to someone not familiar with the area of your project. Think of it as what you would tell your grandparents!)
Shortly after registration, once you’ve decided on your experimental procedures
Upload your Project Plan describing those procedures
Prior to a few days before the fair day, after which no further changes can be made to your presentation materials,
Upload your Quad Chart
On Fair Day,
Bring your poster and any props you want to use in your presentation to the Rochester Museum & Science Center.
From our various guides on ISEF and its regional fairs, we have compiled a small list of the most useful tips to keep in mind for students preparing for these fairs:
Having a mentor: Having the right guidance can make sure that your time is being spent in the most productive way. We recommend finding a mentor who is well-versed in your chosen field. For instance, if you are interested in researching active pharmaceutical ingredients, having a biochemistry doctoral student might be the best fit.
Take the paperwork seriously: Participation is not possible if you didn't fill out the right forms on time! Not being logistically prepared can cost you your eligibility.
Spend extra time on the presentation: Apart from the fact that the presentation has a huge weight in the judging criteria, it is often one that many students tend to focus on least because of how focused everyone is on getting the research right. Being a scientist is not just about conducting research but also about communicating your research to an external audience.
Seek inspiration from winners: We recommend all interested students check out the abstract database of ISEF to look at the kinds of research that students have done in the past. You can sort by geographical location and subject category to get refined results.
Lumiere Research Scholar Program
If you’re looking for a mentor to participate in a science fair-like Terra 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.