Rules and Guidelines for 2024 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 2024 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 2024 International Science & Engineering Fair link:  .  Scroll down the page for “Rules and Guidelines” and “Additional Resources.”

– The OCSEF uses its own forms which are available on the Survey Monkey Project Registration site. [Go to the OCSEF Registration web page for instructions on how to register a project: ]

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, using the Next Generation Science Standards Science and Engineering Practices (SEPs)” which supports the  Scientific Method format  and asks a “Question “ which will be answered by the student’s experiment. 
  • a project utilizing the Engineering Design Process, as stated in the Next Generation Science Standards, which states a  “Problem” to be solved by the student’s  Engineering Project. 

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 2023 OCSEF:

  • Continuing projects will be judged only on experiment/data collection performed from March 2023 to March 2024.  
  • 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. OCSEF 2024 follows a two-step Registration process:
Step 1: Project Registration
Step 2: Project Submittal

Use this link to begin Step 1. Project Registration:

8. To Determine if the project requires completing and submitting a Certification Form, answer the following “Four Questions” on the Registration form.

If you answer “YES” to any of these questions, you must complete and submit the Certification Form for that statement.

Four Questions:  Does your project involve:

  1. Humane treatment of live vertebrate animals, not including human subjects. (Certification of Humane Treatment of  Live Vertebrate Animals Form)
  2. Hazardous materials or activities (i.e. projects involving microbiology, vertebrate animal tissue, hazardous chemicals and/or hazardous equipment. (Certification of Human Subjects Research (Hazardous Certification Form)
  3. Human subject research. (Certification of Human Subjects Research).
  4. Regulated research at a lab/university facility. It must follow proper state/federal/ISEF safety regulations. (Certification of Regulated Research in Institutional or Industrial Settings).

9. If the answer to each of the above “Four Questions” is “No”, then you do not need to submit any of the  Certification Forms, and the Registration System will prompt a signed Parent Affidavit and a signed Teacher Approval Form.   

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

Students must submit a complete proposal, along with Certification Form(s), if required, BEFORE the start of any research.

Once the Complete Project Registration is complete, with appropriate certification forms, if required,  the Scientific Review Committee (SRC) team will review the project and send the student a “project approval email”  and move it to Step 2. “Project Submittal”.

Once the project is approved, the following project components must be uploaded to the OCSEF for Project Submittal by Feb 25, 2024: 

  • Maximum 3 min. video about your project
  • Slide Deck using the OCSEF format
  • Pictures of key pages from the log book
  • Student and parent consent form

Check out the Calendar page for project registration dates

[IMPORTANT:   Start Project Registration well before the Feb. 4, 2024 deadline to be sure the Scientific Review Committee (SRC) has time to review your project and you can complete Project Registration before the Feb. 4, 2024 deadline.]

11.  Slide Deck: All students must complete and submit the Slide Deck using the pre-designed digital Google Slide Deck Template. You need to comply with all criteria and formatting that is clearly outlined on the first two slides of the Slide Deck Template. Once the slide deck presentation is completed, save the file as a PDF and upload it when you register your project online. The use of a standard presentation format assures equity in judging. 
Science Slide Deck
Engineering Slide Deck

12. 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. See a complete list and descriptions of the Project Categories on the OCSEF website.  ( .   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 Submittal deadline of February 25, 2024, 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.

  1. Appointments for judging interviews virtually through Zoom will be assigned after Project Registration is complete.  
  2. Only students being interviewed will be allowed in the judging area (virtual chat room) with the projects during judging.
  3. The digital project uploads must be available for demonstration and reference for the judges during interviews. (See Rules #11 and #12) 
  4. Students may show the 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.

16.  Detailed explanation of the 4 Certification Forms:

   1.    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.

  1. Research Plans must conform to   (Pages 12-14)
  2. 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.
  3. Vertebrate animal studies without this certification will not be allowed in the OCSEF for exhibition or judging. 
  4. 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.  

    2.   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.

    3.  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)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. Appropriate safety precautions, including personal protective equipment (eye goggles, aprons, gloves, etc.) must be worn when hazards exist.
  6. Projects involving multidrug resistant organisms and Recombinant DNA (rDNA) technologies must be conducted in a Regulated Research Institution and approved by their Biosafety committee.
  7. 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.
  8. 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.
  9. 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.

    4.  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)

  1. 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.   
  2. 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.    
  3. 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.