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 multi-step process:

  • Step 1 Project Registration: deadline of Monday, February 5, 2024, at 11:59pm. All students must complete registration prior to this deadline in order to submit a project for OCSEF 2024. No exceptions. Use this link to begin:
  • All projects need to be approved by the Scientific Review Committee (SRC) before moving to Step 2 Project Submittal
  • Step 2 Project Submittal: deadline of Monday, February 26, 2024, at 11:59pm. All students must complete their project submittal prior to this deadline in order to enter the fair. No exceptions.

8. Certification Forms:
Students will be required to complete and submit the corresponding Certification Forms as part of the Step 1 Project Registration process IF they answer “YES” to any of the following “Four Questions” on the Registration form. 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 use of tools/equipment. (Certification of Hazards Control Form)
  3. Human subject research, including self. (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).

** See Rule 17 for details of the regulations on the Certification Forms.

** If Certification Forms are required, students must include the appropriate forms in Step 1 Project Registration, BEFORE the start of any experiments. The Scientific Review Committee (SRC) will review the project and send the student a “project approval email” before their project can move to the Step 2 Project Submittal stage.

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 student just needs to request teacher approval and complete the parent and student signatures. 

10. Once the project is approved by the SRC, the following project components must be uploaded to tapplication to complete Step 2 Project Submittal by February 26, 2024. Be sure to follow additional guidelines for each component below.

  • Digital Slide Deck or Poster Board
    • Slide Deck – max 12 slides & 10 MB (file type pdf)
    • Poster Board – max 4 pictures & 10 MB (file types pdf, jpg, png)
  • Video – max 3 minutes & 250 MB (file types mp3, mp4, avi, mov)
  • Log Book – 5 pictures with max 10 MB each (file types pdf, jpg, png)
  • Affidavit – max 25 MB (file types pdf, jpg, jpeg)

11.  Slide Deck or Poster Board: All students must create and submit a Slide Deck or Poster Board about their project. The use of a standard presentation format assures equity in judging. 

  • For the Slide Deck, students should use the digital templates for either science or engineering (links below). You need to comply with all criteria and formatting clearly outlined on the first slide of the templates. The Slide Deck must not be more than 12 slides, saved as a pdf, and uploaded to your application.
    Science Slide Deck
    Engineering Slide Deck
  • For the Poster Board, students can use the basic presentation format for tri-fold poster boards (link below). You can upload 4 pictures of your poster board: left side, center, right side, and whole board.
    Making A Project | OCSEF

12. Project Video
All students must create and submit a Video about their project that is no longer than 3 minutes. If working as a team, equal time should be given to each student on the team. Once your Video is complete, save the file as mp3, mp4, avi, or mov and upload it to your application.

13. Log Book
All student must use a handwritten Log Book while conducting their science experiment or engineering design project. The Log Book should document the process of their project and include:

  • Science Experiment: hypothesis/question, materials & methods, data collected, observations
  • Engineering Design: problem & designs, testing, observations, redesign

Once the project is completed, students need to take pictures of 5 pages of their Log Book and upload them to their application. This should NOT include charts/graphs or pictures of the student doing their project.

14. Projects 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.

15. Students are responsible for selecting an appropriate category in which to enter the project. See the complete list of Project Categories (   The OCSEF Board will review all applications 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. Be sure to provide a complete and accurate description of your project to ensure your project is placed in the proper category.

16. Students must be present virtually to speak with the OCSEF judges (Zoom breakout room format).

  • Appointments for judging interviews virtually through Zoom will be assigned after the Step 2 Project Submittal deadline.  
  • All students for a team project must be present virtually and participate in the interview with the judges.
  • Only students being interviewed will be allowed in the judging area (Zoom breakout room).
  • The digital project uploads must be available for demonstration and reference for the judges during interviews. (See Rules 11, 12 & 13) 
  • Students may show the equipment and demonstrations relevant to their projects during the interviews with the judges.

17. Detailed Explanation of the 4 Certification Forms

  • Specific ISEF Rules that apply to all OCSEF projects involving human subjects, live vertebrate animals, hazardous biological agents, and hazardous chemicals, devices or activities can be found HERE.
  • Please contact the Scientific Review Committee at for any additional questions.

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 (found HERE) 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 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.  

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, all ISEF Rules (found HERE), and the guidance on the Certification of Human Subjects Research form.

  • Research Plans must conform to (Pages 8-11)
  • Certification is required even if the human subject is the student themselves.
  • Please refer to the Human Studies Risk Assessment Guide (found HERE) when designing your research project to ensure the rights and welfare of your human participants are protected.
  • Please refer to the Online Survey Consent Procedures (found HERE) if using an online survey/questionnaire as part of your project.
  • 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.

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), hazardous substances or devices (physical and chemical hazards, anything so labeled, or if not handled properly, can cause injury) must conform to the regulations listed here, all ISEF Rules (found HERE), and the guidance listed on the Certification of Hazards Control Form.  Specific organisms (e.g. baker’s yeast) and experimental conditions may be exempt from this requirement. 

  • Research Plans must conform to (Pages 15-21)
  • 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 or engineering designs will be done must be listed on the Certification form, including materials, tools, and/or equipment used.
  • 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; and equipment/devices that are potentially dangerous or outside the student’s usual experience at their 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, must be completed in a BSL-2 (Biosafety level 2) laboratory, and approved by the Institutional 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.

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 conform to the regulations listed here, all ISEF Rules (found HERE), and the guidance on the Certification of Regulated Research in Institutional or Industrial Settings form.

  • Research Plan must conform to (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 form. 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, or 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 setting.  
  • 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.