Rules and Guidelines for 2022 OCSEF

The following is the Orange County Science and Engineering Fair (OCSEF) ethics statement and rules for eligibility, safety, entry, and exhibits. Current rules and guidelines for the virtual 2022 OCSEF are included.

– The OCSEF Board of Directors want all students to have the opportunity to compete fairly. For these reasons, the Rules will be strictly enforced.

– The following regulations keep projects uniform for judging and ensure that they abide by the laws of the State of California, the State of California Education Code, and the Rules of the Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF).  

–  Detailed Rules, which apply to all OCSEF projects can be found at the International Science & Engineering Fair links:
Additional guidance from ISEF:

-The OCSEF uses its own forms, which are available when students complete the OCSEF Initial Screening Application at the Registration site:

General Rules

  1. Student researchers, as well as adults, who have a role in projects are expected to maintain the highest ethical standards. Scientific fraud and misconduct are not condoned at any level of research or competition. This includes plagiarism (use or presentation of other’s research work as your own), fabrication, or falsification of research data. Projects found to be fraudulent will not qualify for the OCSEF. Both OCSEF and ISEF reserve the right to revoke recognition of projects subsequently found to be fraudulent.
  2. Projects must present either: 
    • an experiment exemplifying scientific methodology (Scientific Method)  
    • a project utilizing the Engineering Design Process.
  3. 6th-12th grade students attending an Orange County school (public, private, or home school) may enter the OCSEF. Students in an enrichment or after school program must enter their project through the school at which they are registered.
    • Students in grades 6-8 are in the Junior Division.
    • Students in grades 9-12 are in the Senior Division.
    • All projects must be checked and approved by a sponsoring teacher or administrator from the school, or by application to OCSEF Board of Directors. Home-school students may be sponsored by a teacher, administrator, or by application to the OCSEF Board of Directors, but not by a parent/guardian.
    • If a school has a local science fair and/or a district fair, projects must be selected through that fair in order to enter OCSEF.
    • If a school does not have a science fair or participate in a district science fair, up to 20 students per school may participate in the OCSEF with the approval of a teacher or OCSEF Board Member.
    • Home-school students may be sponsored by a teacher, administrator, or OCSEF Board Member.
  4. The maximum number of entries from a given school is 20 projects. District science fairs may enter up to 165 projects.
    • A school may exceed 20 projects if they are selected to enter OCSEF through its district fair.
    • A school may submit a written request for more than 20 projects. This can be done on the website: Click on:
    • A district may submit a written request for more than 165 projects for consideration by the OCSEF Board of Directors.
  5. Students may enter an individual project, or they may enter as part of a team of up to 3 students per project.
    • Team projects will be placed in the same categories as individual projects. Judges will have higher expectations for the originality, scientific value, and completeness of team projects done by 2 or 3 authors working together, in comparison with the work done by one student.
    • All work on team projects must be acknowledged; all team members must be present at the virtual judging interview to be considered for category awards.
    • Projects entered by an individual but discovered to have been done by a group will be disqualified.
    • Team projects with a partner from a region other than Orange County may choose to participate in the OCSEF or the other region’s science fair (if their rules permit it), but not both.
    • Group projects must be conducted under current COVID 19 safety guidelines.
  6. Continuing projects that competed in the 2021 OCSEF:
    • Continuing projects will be judged only on experiment/data collection performed from March 2021 to March 2022.  
    • Any project based on the student’s prior research must document that the additional research is a substantive expansion from prior work (e.g. testing a new variable or new line of investigation). Testing only an increased sample size is not acceptable.
    • Multi-year longitudinal studies are permitted if they are testing variables in which time is a   critical variable over consecutive years.


7. The Registration Process using OCSEF’s application module is a multi-step process which includes:

  • Initial Screening and review by the Scientific Review Committee (SRC)
  • Pre-Approval w/ Certifications [if required].
  • Project Registration.

Use this link to begin the multi-step process:

8. Initial Screening:  All students planning to do a research or engineering design project with the intent to enter the project in the 2022 Fair should begin registration by submitting their projects for Initial Screening well before the Fri. Feb 4, 2022 deadline  in order to complete Project Registration by February 25, 2022.

9. If students answer “No” to all 4 questions in the Initial Screening section, the Registration System will prompt a Signed Parent Affidavit and a signed Teacher Approval Form to complete the Initial Screening process.

10.  Projects Requiring Pre-Approval with Certifications are projects involving: 

  • Humane treatment of live vertebrate animals, not including human subjects. 
  • Hazardous materials or activities (i.e. projects involving microbiology, vertebrate animal tissue, hazardous chemicals and/or hazardous equipment).
  • Human subject research.
  • Regulated research at a lab/university facility. It must follow proper state/federal/ISEF safety regulations.

After completing the Initial Screening, if the student answers “yes” to any of the 4 questions in the Initial Screening section, students will be prompted to start the Pre-Approval Questionnaire, which will require completing appropriate certification forms. Students must submit a complete proposal, along with the Certification Form(s), for pre-approval BEFORE the start of any research.

     ***See Rule # 16 for details of the regulations on the Certification Forms.

11.  Students may choose one of two options to upload project information to the site: 

Option 1:   Construct a Traditional Display Boardthat adheres to all specifications and restrictions and upload a digital picture of the board when registering the project online . The digital picture must capture all essential board components and be clearly visible and readable by any viewer.  Include  a project summary report and key pages from the logbook.  

Option 2 (Highly Recommended):  Upload a pre-designed digital backboard Google Slide Deck Template presentation, adhering to all criteria and formatting clearly outlined in the instructions.  For instructions on formatting the slide deck, download:

2022 OCSEF Science Digital Slide Deck Template

12. (Pertains to both Option 1 and Option 2 in Rule 11) Project exhibits may not display procedures detrimental to the health and well-being of vertebrate animals or humans. The OCSEF Board of Directors reserves the right to deny display of photographs/visual images/charts/tables and/or graphs of such, as determined by the OCSEF Scientific Review Committee.

13. The students are responsible for selecting an appropriate category in which to enter the project. The OCSEF Board will review and may change category assignments, based on the reading of the submitted abstracts, to ensure that projects with similar topics are placed in the same category

14.  All students must complete registration prior to the Project Registration deadline of February 25, 2022, in order to enter the fair. (See Key Dates on the website)

15. Students must be present virtually to speak with the Fair judges during OCSEF Fair Week.

  • Appointments for judging interviews virtually through Zoom will be assigned after Project Registration is complete.    Judging for Board Awards is March 9, 2022.  Judging for the ISEF Competition is March 19, 2022.
  • Only students being interviewed will be allowed in the judging area (virtual chat room) with the projects during judging.
  • The digital project uploads (Option #1 or Option #2) must be available for demonstration and reference for the judges during interviews. (See Rules #11 and #12) 
  • Students may include equipment and demonstrations relevant to their projects during the interviews with the judges.

*** 16. Certification Form Details and Requirements

Specific ISEF Rules that apply to all OCSEF projects involving human subjects, live vertebrate animals and hazardous chemicals, devices or activities can be found at:

Please contact the Scientific Review Committee at for any additional questions.

16a. Certification of Humane Treatment of  Live Vertebrate Animals. All projects involving non-human vertebrate animals, including any invasive work with vertebrates, as well as observations in natural settings, must conform to all ISEF Rules and the guidance listed on the OCSEF Certification of Humane Treatment of Live Vertebrate Animals form.

  • Research Plans must conform to   (Pages 12-14)
  • The project must be planned and carried out under the direct supervision of a veterinarian, designated supervisor, or qualified scientist as required by the OCSEF Scientific Review Committee.
  • Vertebrate animal studies without this certification will not be allowed in the OCSEF for exhibition or judging. 
  • Because significant weight loss is one sign of stress, the maximum permissible weight loss or growth retardation – compared to controls – of any animal is 15%. Student researchers are expected to monitor regularly the health of their animals and record their weights.  

16b. Certification of Human Subjects Research. All projects involving human subjects, including projects involving surveys, questionnaires, or data that came from human subjects with identifiable private information (e.g. names, addresses, birth date, phone number), must conform to the regulations listed here and on the Certification for Research of Human Subjects form. Research Plans must conform to International Science and Engineering Fair Regulations (ISEF) for Experiments with Human Subjects: (Pages 8-11)

  • Students are prohibited from independently diagnosing disease, administering medication, and/or performing medical procedures. 
  • A student may observe and collect data for analysis of medical procedures, medication/treatment efficacy, and diagnosis of illness, only under the direct supervision of a licensed health care provider/professional. This Healthcare provider/professional must be named in the research plan/ protocol approved by the SRC.

16c. Certification of Hazards Control. All projects that involve hazardous materials or activities including potentially hazardous biological agents (microorganisms, recombinant DNA technologies, or human or animal tissues, blood, or body fluids) or hazardous Substances or devices, including physical and chemical hazards, anything so labeled or which, if not handled properly, can cause injury, must conform to the regulations listed here and on the Certification of Hazards Control Form.  Specific organisms (e.g. baker’s yeast) and experimental conditions may be exempt from this Requirement.  ISEF Rules for hazardous chemicals, activities or devices can be found at:  (Pages 19-21)

  • Eggs and pasteurized milk from food stores have been added to a list of exempt tissues that do not require pre-approval. Established non-primate cell lines are exempt tissues that do not require pre-approval.
  • Students must carefully plan and follow safe procedures. Explicit details about how and where experiments will be done must be listed on the Certification form.
  • Project work requiring Certification includes: use of bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and molds; UV light exposure; use of controlled substances; use of hazardous chemicals; growing microorganisms in cultures in petri dishes; equipment/devices that are potentially dangerous or outside the student’s usual experience at the age/grade level.
  • Culturing microorganisms (bacteria, protozoa, fungi, and molds) in the home environment is prohibited and will not be allowed to compete in the OCSEF. See ISEF rules for where such culturing is allowed to take place.
  • Appropriate safety precautions, including personal protective equipment (eye goggles, aprons, gloves, etc.) must be worn when hazards exist.
  • Projects involving multidrug resistant organisms and Recombinant DNA (rDNA) technologies must be conducted in a Regulated Research Institution and approved by their Biosafety committee.
  • Projects involving Recombinant DNA (rDNA) technologies: Genome editing studies, that include alteration of germline cells, are BSL-2 (Biosafety level 2) and must be both conducted at a regulated research institution and approved by the institution’s Biosafety Committee.
  • Students may not perform bioengineering for the following purposes: a) the insertion of antibiotic resistant traits, or b) for designing or selecting multiple drug resistant organisms.
  • Students may not be involved in the direct acquisition of recombinant DNA, tissue, organs, or other body parts (including blood and meat) from humans or vertebrate animals; they must be acquired by qualified adults or from a commercial or medical source.

16d. Certification of Regulated Research in Institutional or Industrial Settings. Students who perform projects in whole or part at an industrial, university, hospital, or other institution and not their school or home environment must follow these guidelines.  ISEF Rules and Responsibilities can be found at   (Pages 5-7)

  • Approval letters from the appropriate institutional oversight committees on official letterhead (e.g. IRB, Environmental Health and Safety and/or IACUC) must be attached to the Certification of Regulated Research.  Letters from the Principal Investigator of the Laboratory attesting to appropriate approvals will not be accepted.   
  • Studies that culture clinically significant multi-drug resistant organisms (e.g. MRSA, VISA/VRSA, VRE, CRE, ESBLs, fungi with known resistance to antifungal agents) require Institutional Biosafety Committee (IBC) approval, BSL-2 (Biosafety Level 2) containment and must have a written justification for usage and be conducted in a Regulated Research.    
  • Projects involving Recombinant DNA (rDNA) technologies and Genome editing studies that include alteration of germline cells must be completed in a BSL-2 laboratory and approved by the Institutional Biosafety Committee.