The science fair as an institution dates back decades, yet until fairly recently, rules governing the use of animals for science fair exhibits were lax or non-existent.  Invasive projects were conducted in home settings and controls on animal care were largely haphazard.

Things, however, began changing in 1969. That’s when – appalled by an exhibit involving blinding live sparrows – the organizers of the Westinghouse Science Talent Search (now known as the Intel Science Talent Search [ISTS]) issued new rules prohibiting invasive experiments on animals. This seminal moment opened the door for other science fairs and prize sponsors to adopt similar humane guidelines and requirements.

Since that time, science fair rules relating to the use of vertebrate animals have come a long way. Many fairs have placed restrictions on the types of animals used and the kinds of experiments allowed, as well as instituting minimum standards of animal treatment and care. Prestigious events such as the ISTS and Siemens Competition in Math, Science & Technology have followed in Westinghouse’s footsteps, disallowing invasive experiments altogether, but we still have a long way to go.

Unfortunately, there are still events like the Intel International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) – the largest science fair in the United States – that permit their exhibitors to perform invasive experiments on animals. NAVS’ ultimate goal is to nullify all such exhibits with constructive initiatives like our exclusive Humane Science Award, an honor that encourages scientific advancement without harming animals. Yet more progress is needed, of course, and NAVS continues its commitment to bringing about complete change in this realm.
Thanks to the efforts of NAVS and fellow advocates like you, more and more students are focusing their scientific efforts in research methods that don’t rely on animal models. Just as biomedical research at universities and other institutions is changing, many projects at science fairs have also changed with the times, taking advantage of new technologies and innovations.

In vitro technology, bioinformatics, epidemiology and human-based research are other examples of methodologies that do not rely on the use of animals. Students in these fields have been publicly lauded by NAVS, as well as by leading medical institutions and pharmaceutical companies. 

  • For further information on NAVS' campaign to eliminate the invasive use of animals at science fairs, check out the NAVS Intel ISEF campaign.
  • To find out about the NAVS scholarship prize (presented at Intel ISEF), read up on the NAVS Humane Science Award.
  • Need some ideas for cruelty-free science fair projects? Visit our Education Resource page.
  • To view past recipients of the NAVS Humane Science Award, click here.

You Can Make a Difference!

Even if you’re not a student or teacher, whether or not you have a strong background in science, there are positive, meaningful and effective steps you can take right now to help advance humane practices at science fairs:

  • Volunteer to be a judge at a local school or regional science fair.
  • Get involved in science fair planning at your local school.
  • Offer to mentor a student working on a project.
  • Encourage your own children, as well as children of friends and relatives, to enter their schools’ science fairs with projects that do not cause harm to animals.
  • Lobby your local science fair authorities to disallow invasive experiments on animals.
  • Spread this all-important message: Students can get excited about science without hurting animals!
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