Science and Technology

4-H Science Projects

The young people of New York have the imagination, intelligence and desire to help meet many of the challenges posed by food and fiber industries in the 21st century. This program provides teenagers with the scientific framework they need to make real contributions to the creation of environmentally sustainable systems. And of course, this whole process can be a lot of fun.

With the help of an instructor, 4-H leader or Cornell personnel, the young scientist or group selects an original hypothesis to test, a new subject to describe and/or an innovative public service project in an area of agriculture, human ecology or life science that the student really enjoys. The participant then carries out the project and presents the results.

After completing your project, you will summarize it on an exhibit with brief text, photos, graphs, or whatever you need to show the world what you did and how it turned out.

This project is open to any New York State resident who is nine by September 30th of the current year and less than 19 years of age on January 1, of the current year.

Shelly Ann Shepherd (an imaginary person) noticed that lambs living in a pasture where they could nibble Tioga Broom (an imaginary plant) leaves just seemed to grow faster. Shelly’s 4-H leader pointed out that this might make a great Agriculture, Human Ecology and Life Science Project, and she agreed and proceeded as follows:

  • Shelly went to the library, read in her animal science books and surfed the web to find out everything she could about what made lambs grow faster. No one had every written anything about Tioga Broom’s effects on lambs, but her reading and observations suggested to Ms. Shepherd that Tioga Broom leaves might contain some chemical or nutrient which made lambs grow faster, so…
  • She summarized what she had read and observed that might be related to this question and…
  • Shelly created a hypothesis that: If Tioga Broom leaves are added to Yummy Lamb Pellets (an imaginary complete feed for fattening lambs), then these lambs will grow faster than those which do not get the leaves.
  • Shelly went out and harvested and dried Tioga Broom leaves and mixed 1 part leaves with 50 parts Yummy Lamb Pellets.
  • Shelly then fed the leaf-treated pellets to two of her lambs and the regular pellets to the other two. Ms. Shepherd also convinced two of her friends to do the same, so six lambs were eating pellets with Tioga broom leaves and six were without on three different farms.
  • Shelly Ann recorded what kind of lambs were fed, how old they were, where they lived, how much feed all of the lambs ate every day and weighed them every month.
  • At the County level, the twelve lambs were weighed in pounds one last time and Shelly Ann wrote down all of her observations in a nice neat table . She recorded beginning weight, weight at fair, gain during the 90 day feeding period (Tioga lambs gained an average of 71.1 pounds and ranged from 65 – 75; Control lambs gained an average of 50.2 pounds and ranged from 46-63), days on feed, gain/day, feed eaten, and gain/feed.
  • Since the average gain was greater for the leaf fed animals than the controls and in fact the slowest-growing leaf-fed animal grew faster than the fastest control, Ms. Shepherd concluded that the leaf caused the lambs to grow faster. Since they ate about the same amount of feed Shelly also concluded that the effect of the leaves was to increase efficiency without increasing feed intake. In this case, formal statistical analysis would not add much – all statistical procedures would indicate a difference anyway. But in most cases, she would have consulted a high school or beginning college statistics text to see how to do a “Student’s t test” or analysis of variance to figure out the probability that the results she saw were due to real effects of the leaf or to chance alone.
  • After completing this experiment, Shelly Ann Shepherd prepared a display on which she placed a title, her name, pictures of her experiment (sheep, Tioga Broom, action photos of preparing leaf and feeding sheep), a summary of her project (abstract, results table and conclusions), acknowledgments of written sources and everyone who helped her (including the friends that let her add leaf to their feed and weigh their lambs) and entered her project at the local county level.
  • At the State level, Shelly put up her display and discussed her project, her readings and what experiments she thought should be done next with the judges (a science teacher, a farmer and a veterinarian).
  • At the State level, Shelly saw other projects in which other young people had tested new kinds of thread made from weed stalks, stopped pollution of a local creek and grew triangular tomatoes. Some worked on an individual project as she had, others did a single project shared by an entire club. Some worked in smaller groups.
  • Shelly was glad she had spoken to people at Cornell before and during her project. That way, the folks at Cornell were able to make suggestions that she used to improve her project as it progressed through the summer.

Your imagination, personal interests and creativity are the most important part of this program, so we don't want to tell you what to do, but we will describe the range of topics involved and give examples of past projects from similar programs. Projects may be drawn from any aspect of the entire system of water, soil, plants and animals to the food, fabric, landscaping and wood products we consume and all the natural and social sciences related to that system. You or your group might conduct taste tests of new horse feeds, count all the blue birds in your township or reforest a cut-over woodlot. How does boiling time affect maple syrup color or flavor? How many people can you feed with 1500 square feet of garden? Projects could include community efforts to maintain both healthy streamside vegetation and livestock grazing, new ways of protecting foods from germs, testing a new dog food ingredient, contrasting the fertility of soils amended with different kinds of compost, invention of new products from sawmill or cheese plant wastes. The sky is the limit!

Below are some examples of types of projects you may conduct. Any type or combination of the types of science projects below along with creativity is encouraged.

Experiments - Describe your hypothesis (what you think will happen), describe the procedures you performed, describe the observations you made and what conclusions you drew from your experiment. You must include photos or drawings and samples (if possible) of your experiment.

If it is difficult to recreate the study for the exhibit, drawings or photographs are acceptable. Use heavy poster paper (14" x 22" minimum) as a background. Glue or tape photos and diagrams, along with sheets of white paper that include your experiment description within these sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. Hypothesis
  3. Methods
  4. Results
  5. What you conclude

Public Service Projects: These exhibits can be of any public service or public education activity you took part in that had a scientific component to it. Watershed rehabilitation, recycling programs and educational models are just a few of the possibilities here. In any case, the project exhibit posters must be clearly labeled with a written statement of what the project is, how it relates to science, and why you are interested in the project.

Descriptive Science: There are some science projects which are not experiments and are not applied service projects, but do consist of systematic observations and tell us about the natural world. Your exhibit could show summaries of what you observed (how the local bird population changes with the seasons, where flies like to breed in a barn, how many bites of food different animals take per minute, etc.) or you could present collections and classifications of materials which display physical or biological articles.

All project posters will be examined by a team of science professionals. The work will be judged on originality, design, validity and quality of presentation. For projects that include experiments (e.g. contrasting two treatments), your choice of hypothesis (what you thought would happen before you tried it) and how well you tested it will be important. Descriptive work will be judged on the quality and variety of observations taken and how they are compiled and presented. Public service projects will be judged on the approach, the importance of the work, and your understanding of the scientific basis for success of such projects. Your project may include more than one kind of investigation.

All entries will be recognized for the efforts of each individual or group representing their part of New York State.

In addition, First, Second and Third place awards will be presented to projects in each of two divisions: Individual Projects and Group Projects. As participation grows, further divisions by project type and ages may be possible.

Same Scorecard:

  • For all projects:
    • 10 Originality
    • 15 Design of project
    • 15 Validity of conclusions
    • 20 Quality of presentation
  • For experiments:
    • 15 Hypothesis
    • 25 Methods used to test hypothesis
  • For descriptive projects:
    • 20 Quality of observations
    • 10 Variety of observations
    • 10 Methods of Compilation and Summary
  • For public service projects:
    • 10 Approach
    • 15 Importance
    • 15 Understanding of Scientific Basis
  • Grand Total for any project type will be 100
  • September to July - Conduct projects. Instructors and Cornell Cooperative Extension personnel are available for consultation.
  • August- Enter through your local Cornell Cooperative Extension (4-H) office. Construction of poster or PPT presentations.
  • August/September - Display selected projects at local or state events.

For more information

Contact Brian Aukema at bja14 [at] (bja14[at]cornell[dot]edu).