I want to conduct an experiment but as a secondary school pupil I will be using my school’s laboratory and to make novel or interesting discoveries, wouldn’t one need advanced equipment, a prospect which is not feasible for one of my station in life? I want to know if anybody has done a simple experiment and discovered anything new? Thanks.

  • $\begingroup$ Do you mean a groundbreaking discovery? That would be hard. But smaller ones that built upon others works are really feasible. $\endgroup$
    – Macrophage
    Dec 29, 2017 at 15:07
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    $\begingroup$ I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it has nothing to do with biology specifically, and can be applied to most fields of scientific research. $\endgroup$
    – user22020
    Dec 29, 2017 at 15:40
  • $\begingroup$ @Charles It is about science but since I wanted to experiment in Biology I posted it here. $\endgroup$
    – M. Harrow
    Dec 30, 2017 at 2:48
  • $\begingroup$ I would advise to conduct a field experiment. Field work typically requires many eyes (school pupils) and not necessarily a lab. $\endgroup$
    – RHA
    Jan 1, 2018 at 21:23

2 Answers 2


I can point to two published papers in which students performed useful experiments.

The present study (on the vision of bumble-bees) goes even further, since it was not only performed outside my laboratory (in a Norman church in the southwest of England), but the ‘games’ were themselves devised in collaboration with 25 8- to 10-year-old children. ... They also drew the figures (in coloured pencil) and wrote the paper.

Principal finding ‘We discovered that bumble-bees can use a combination of colour and spatial relationships in deciding which colour of flower to forage from. We also discovered that science is cool and fun because you get to do stuff that no one has ever done before. (Children from Blackawton)’.

--Blackawton bees

As part of a high school class project, influenza sequences with possible errors were identified in the public databases based on the size of the gene being longer than expected, with the hypothesis that these sequences would have an error. Students contacted sequence submitters alerting them of the possible sequence issue(s) and requested they the suspect sequence(s) be correct as appropriate.

--Sequencing artifacts in the type A influenza databases and attempts to correct them

You'll notice that both of these projects were guided by "professional" scientists. The biggest problem with doing your own experiments is that you're very likely to simply repeat something that's already done, or else do something that's not useful or is trivial. It's very difficult even for professional scientists to have a reasonable grasp of even a very focused field of science, and for someone outside the field to try to understand what has and hasn't been done, and what is and isn't considered interesting, is nearly impossible.

  • $\begingroup$ Thanks. I am not sure I will be allowed to do a data-based project for the science fair though. $\endgroup$
    – M. Harrow
    Dec 30, 2017 at 2:49

All kinds of interesting stuff you can do. How novel it is depends largely on your approach.

While it didn't lead to a paper, I heard the following story from a microbiologist an New Mexico State. I think it was second hand then.

School loses it's science teacher. It's a small college town, and it was only a part time position. One section of biology is for "kids who are good with their hands" a euphemism for ones not on the college track, the dummies. They take a lot of shop, industrial arts etc.

They hire a grad student from the local college to fill in. The principle tells him that if can just keep the dummies quiet that's sufficient.

Grad student goes away and thinks about this.

Comes in first day of class with a mouse trap. Doesn't say a word. Sets the trap, then with a pencil nuzzles the trigger until SNAP. Makes choking sound. "Dead Pencil"

"As you can see, this is a trap for getting rid of mice. But it makes the mouse hard to reuse. I want a live trap. I want a trap that will catch a mouse without hurting it. How do we do that?"

The rest of that class was spent brainstorming ideas. At the end of the period he gave each kid a trap. "Make a live trap."

Most of them came with traps the next day.

They went into the rough country behind the school and set the traps.

Next day some of the traps were gone. Trap and all. Coyotes thought they were box lunches. The ones that were alive were anesthetized, banded, sexed, weighed, and released.

The quality of the traps got better. Fewer mice died. Less bait used with no mouse to show. Some of the kids had a half dozen traps.

He made them pool their data and make a map of every trap, and the distances to other things. Trees, grassy areas, bushes.

After a couple weeks he taught them how to determine their age.

As they accumulated data they started catching some mice that had already been banded.

By asking questions he got the idea of sampling to them. Based on the number of banded ones to unbanded ones, they could figure out how many mice there were out there.

He had them plot where the 2 and 3 time mice were caught. From this they figured out how big a world a mouse lives in -- what was their territory.

They kept a few in the lab, and the kids watched them. Watched them mate, and later deliver litters of pups. They weighed pups. Weighed mom. Measured the food they ate. Figured out how much food it would take in the wild.

Some of htem asked if wild mice would behave the same, eat the same. "Good Question. How would you find out?"

Often when they caught a mouse, it had been in there long enough to crap. He taught them how to analyze the crap for parasite eggs. He showed them lice, and fleas.

By mid winter they were doing all kinds of stats. Since they were 'good with their hands' their math was chequebook and carpenter math. He had them calculating variance, and correlations.

This is solid science. Papers? Probably not. You'd have to find something different from the literature. But as a teaching or learning exercise it's first rate.

There are lots of critters out there that we don't know a lot about.

Google "Citizen Science" for more ideas. Locally we have a prof that crowd sources climate change indicators over western Canada. She has a web site where you report when wild flowers bloom, when you hear the first boreal or chorus frog, when the first flight of geese with more than 12 birds goes overhead. First tiger swallowtail.

Turns out that some of them don't correlate well with temperature. Some do. Then someone realized that this same dataset can be used to measure biodiversity, and see if the ranges are changing. People near a sighting of X last year were asked to watch for it this year. People were given a protocol for walking a known strip of land, and counting this and that. If they couldn't id it they took a pciture with their phone, and said "30 of these thingies" Prof had a grad student to turn 'thingy' into blazing meadow star. Grad student asks people to stop in the middle of the strip and take 4 shots with their phone with the bottom edge of the image about 10 feet away. From this and looking at grass seed head shapes, he gets an idea of what the relative population of different classes of grass are.

Citizen science.

The class of dummies doesn't have a happy ending. Two weeks before the end of the year, the school inspector comes in, and sits in on the class. The class is excited. A lot of their mice got through the winter and they are seeing small mice -- mouse teenagers -- appearing in their traps. The grad student is talking about reproductive success and population dynamics.

The superintendent goes to the principal. "He's not teaching the state bio curriculum." Principal explains that no one has ever had this kind of success with the dummies. "Doesn't matter. He's not teaching the curriculum. Fire him."


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