Learning proper experimental design and developing a respect for all of life can both contribute to a deeper understanding of our world. Projects that promote greater understanding of animal species or their relationships with other species can be of tremendous interest and value.
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Despite some recent tightening of its rules covering research on nonhuman vertebrate animals, however, the International Science and Engineering Fair still allows projects that involve painful procedures on vertebrates.
The Center for Laboratory Animal Welfare (CLAW) believes that capable students wishing to study animals for a science fair project can achieve their educational goals and produce award-winning work without performing invasive experiments.
Students planning to conduct a study involving live animals should submit their plans in writing to an appropriate review committee before beginning the project or obtaining the animals. The written plan should include a detailed description of the methods and procedures to be used, including all aspects of animal procurement, care, housing, and use; experimental design; data analysis; and a plan for the care of the animal following the end of the study.
All projects must be directly supervised by a qualified teacher, who should assist the student in selecting a project consistent with his or her level of comprehension, ability, and maturity. If any of the work is to be done outside of school, a parent or guardian should be asked to co-sign the project proposal, signifying an understanding of acceptable and unacceptable procedures, of the proper care and handling of any animals involved, and of their responsibility to supervise the work being done.
Pre-college students working with a mentor in a hospital or research laboratory setting should follow the same guidelines that apply to teachers and other students at the elementary and secondary levels. No procedures should interfere with the animal's health and well-being. No painful procedures should be performed, and no toxic chemicals should be administered. No vertebrate animals should be sacrificed for student research. Students intending to conduct independent research at the mentor's institution must seek the approval of that institution's Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee (IACUC).
To avoid the potential for harm in transporting and housing animals in temporary quarters during science fair exhibitions, no living vertebrates should be used in displays at science fairs. Suitable substitutes for documenting behavior may include photographs, drawings, videotapes, audiotapes, charts, and graphs.
For information on Massachusetts policies regarding animals in education, visit our Laws and Regulations page.