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How to Compete in Regeneron ISEF

By Eric Eng

By Eric Eng

a woman looking at a microscope and a man writing notes

How to Compete in Regeneron ISEF

In its latest cycle, the Regeneron ISEF (formerly Intel ISEF) awarded $75,000 to its top winner and dished out over 600 awards, totaling an impressive $9 million. With such hefty rewards and recognition up for grabs, it’s no surprise that the Regeneron ISEF is considered one of the most respected science competitions for high school students worldwide.

If you’re a young scientist eager to show off your research and rub shoulders with the best of the best, you’re in luck! We’ll walk you through Regeneron ISEF’s contest rules. We’ll also give you some tips to help you stand out.

 

What Is Regeneron ISEF?

The Regeneron International Science and Engineering Fair (ISEF) is like the ultimate gathering for high school science enthusiasts. Every year, more than 1,600 bright minds from over 70 countries gather to showcase their independent research projects. The goal? To ignite innovation, problem-solving skills, and a genuine love for scientific exploration in young minds.

a male student holding something while looking at the camera

Why should you care? Besides the thrill of competing on a global stage, there are some pretty neat perks. We’re talking about nearly $9 million in awards, scholarships, and even internships up for grabs. Plus, winners often score the chance to present their findings at international conferences, mingling with fellow science buffs, mentors, and pros.

But it’s not just about the prizes. The whole experience deepens your understanding of the scientific method, fuels your curiosity, and sets you up for future academic and career success.

Where and When Will Regeneron ISEF Take Place?

The Regeneron ISEF 2024 took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center in California, from May 11 to 17. It brought together all the finalists to compete and display their projects. They also had a virtual platform where finalists could share their project materials, making it accessible to a wider audience.

Looking ahead to the Regeneron ISEF 2025? Mark your calendars for Columbus, Ohio, from May 10 to 16, 2025. That’s where the next cycle is going down.

What Prizes Can You Win at Regeneron ISEF?

At Regeneron ISEF (formerly known as Intel ISEF), there’s a hefty prize pool of nearly $9 million up for grabs, including awards, prizes, and scholarships.

The Grand Awards are presented in each of the 22 ISEF categories. These awards include:

Rank Prize
1st Award $5,000
2nd Award $2,000
3rd Award $1,000
4th Award $500

If it’s a team project, the prize is split evenly among the members. The number of awards handed out in each category depends on how many projects are submitted.

If it’s a team project, the prize is split evenly among the members. The number of awards handed out in each category depends on how many projects are submitted.

And for those who clinch the 1st Award category, there are even more prestigious honors on the table:

Award Prize
George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award $75,000
Regeneron Young Scientist Award 2 winners of $50,000 each
Gordon E. Moore Award for Positive Outcomes for Future Generations $50,000
Craig R. Barrett Award for Innovation $10,000
Robert Horvitz Prize for Fundamental Research $10,000
Peggy Scripps Award for Science Communication $10,000
Dudley R. Herschbach SIYSS Award 3 winners of all-expense paid trip to attend the Stockholm International Youth Science Seminar during Nobel Week
EU Contest for Young Scientists Award 2 winners of all-expense-paid trip to attend the European Union Contest for Young Scientists in a new city each year

Who Can Join Regeneron ISEF?

To join Regeneron ISEF, you need to be selected by your ISEF-affiliated regional fair. It’s important to follow your regional fair’s rules as they may differ from ISEF’s. Each affiliated fair can send a set number of projects based on their agreement. Participants must meet certain criteria:

  • Be in grades 9-12 or their equivalent.
  • Not have turned 20 before May 1 preceding the competition.
  • Since English is the official language, project boards and abstracts must be in English.

There are other key eligibility rules:

  • Students can enter only one project, which should involve no more than 12 months of continuous research and must not include work conducted more than 18 months before the Regeneron ISEF in which they will be competing.
  • Teams can consist of up to three members, and all team members must meet the eligibility criteria.
  • Students can only compete in one affiliated fair unless they advance to a state or national fair.
  • While a student’s research can be part of a larger study by professional scientists, the portion presented must be solely their own work.

group of students studying

Projects presented at Regeneron ISEF must be original research in one of the 22 scientific and engineering disciplines represented. Certain types of projects are not eligible, such as:

  • Demonstrations
  • Library research
  • Informational projects
  • Explanation models
  • Kit-building projects

How Does Regeneron ISEF Judging Work?

Judging at ISEF is split into two groups of volunteer judges:

  • Grand Awards: These judges come from universities, industries, and research fields. They assess projects based on creativity, presentation, and interviews. Science and engineering projects have their own criteria, each with specific scoring sections.
  • Special Awards: More than 45 professional organizations give out special awards across various scientific areas.

How to Join Regeneron ISEF

Getting into the Regeneron ISEF (formerly Intel ISEF) involves a bunch of steps, from preparation to competition. Don’t worry, though—we’ve got your back. We’ve laid out the whole process in easy-to-follow steps, so you can stay on course for success.

1. Understand the rules.

Timeline: November-December (the year before ISEF)

Thoroughly read the participation and research rules. Fill out all the necessary paperwork, like the Research Plan/Project Summary and Approval Form (1B), and chat with an Adult Sponsor about your project.

2. Pick your Regeneron ISEF category.

Timeline: November-December (the year before ISEF)

Find a research topic that fits into one of the Regeneron ISEF categories. Make sure you can wrap it up within the 12-month research period.

To help you choose the right category, ask yourself:

  • Who will be the most qualified to judge my project?
  • What area of expertise is the most important for the judge to have?
  • What is the emphasis of my project? What did I study, make, or do?

Choose wisely to get the best match for your project and the most qualified judges. If your project fits multiple subcategories, go for the primary one instead of “Other.” Here are the 22 categories used at the Regeneron ISEF:

Category Description
Animal Sciences (ANIM) Studies on animal life, behavior, physiology, and ecology, including cellular studies and genetics.
Behavioral and Social Sciences (BEHA) Research on human and animal behavior, cognition, social interactions, and cultural influences.
Biochemistry (BCHM) Investigations into the chemical processes within living organisms, including enzyme activities and metabolic pathways.
Biomedical and Health Sciences (BMED) Studies on human health, disease prevention, treatment, and epidemiology, focusing on physiological and molecular mechanisms.
Biomedical Engineering (ENBM) Development of medical devices, diagnostic tools, prostheses, and regenerative medicine technologies.
Cellular and Molecular Biology (CELL) Research on cell structure, function, and molecular processes, including genetic regulation and cellular communication.
Chemistry (CHEM) Studies on chemical reactions, properties of materials, and analytical techniques not involving biochemical systems.
Computational Biology and Bioinformatics (CBIO) Application of computational methods to biological data, including genomics, modeling, and epidemiology.
Earth and Environmental Sciences (EAEV) Research on Earth’s systems, climate, environmental impact, and natural processes affecting ecosystems.
Embedded Systems (EBED) Development of electronic systems for communication, control, and sensing, including microcontrollers and sensors.
Energy: Sustainable Materials and Design (EGSD) Projects focused on energy production, storage, and sustainable technologies, including solar and wind power.
Engineering Technology: Statics and Dynamics (ETSD) Studies on the design and mechanics of structures and vehicles, including aerospace, civil, and mechanical engineering.
Environmental Engineering (ENEV) Engineering solutions for environmental issues, including waste management, pollution control, and water treatment.
Materials Science (MATS) Research on the properties and applications of materials, including development of new substances and composites.
Mathematics (MATH) Investigations in pure and applied mathematics, including theoretical and computational studies.
Microbiology (MCRO) Studies on microorganisms, including their genetics, physiology, and roles in ecosystems or human health.
Physics and Astronomy (PHYS) Research on physical phenomena, including the study of matter, energy, and the universe.
Plant Sciences (PLNT) Studies on plant biology, including growth, genetics, and interactions with the environment.
Robotics and Intelligent Machines (ROBO) Development and programming of robots and intelligent systems for various applications.
Systems Software (SOFT) Creation and optimization of software systems, including algorithms, databases, and cybersecurity.
Technology Enhances the Arts (TECA) Projects that integrate technology into artistic expression, including digital media, interactive art, and multimedia installations.
Translational Medical Science (TMED) Research focused on translating scientific discoveries into practical medical applications, including new therapies and diagnostic techniques.

3. Fill out the paperwork.

Timeline: November-December (the year before ISEF)

Use the ISEF Rules Wizard to figure out which forms you need for your project. Then, make sure to fill them out accurately.

4. Conduct your research.

Timeline: January-December (the year before ISEF)

Spend quality time on your project, especially during the summer. Make sure your research follows ISEF guidelines regarding things like potentially hazardous biological agents, hazardous chemicals and activities, engineering and invention projects, human participants, and/or vertebrate animals. Keep at it for no more than 12 months.

5. Join local and regional fairs.

Timeline: January-March

Get in on your local ISEF-affiliated science fair and work your way up through regional and state levels. Aim to snag a spot as a finalist to qualify for the big ISEF event.

6. Polish your project abstract.

Timeline: Mid-April

Give your project abstract a makeover to make sure it’s spot-on with your research and findings, then submit it.

7. Get your presentation materials ready.

Timeline: Late April

Whip up all the presentation materials you need, including necessary documents and visual aids, and upload them to Regeneron ISEF’s ProjectBoard.

8. Nail the interviews and inspections.

Timeline: Early May

Set up and ace those phone or video interviews, and make sure your project passes all the safety checks to meet ISEF’s display and safety standards.

9. Attend the Regeneron ISEF event.

Timeline: Mid-May

Show off your project at the final Regeneron ISEF event and go head-to-head with other young science champs.

Regeneron ISEF Winning Tips

Now, here are some in-depth tips to ensure your project meets the highest standards at Regeneron ISEF (formerly Intel ISEF):

1. Define your research question clearly.

Start by pinpointing a specific problem or gap in your field. For example, if you’re delving into renewable energy, you could ask, “How can nanotechnology improve the efficiency of solar panels?” This question is clear, testable, and highlights your project’s purpose and potential impact.

Make sure your question can be tackled using scientific methods like experiments or data analysis to beef up your research’s credibility.

2. Design your methodology well.

Craft a detailed plan outlining every step of your research. If you’re exploring how a new fertilizer affects plant growth, map out your experiment setup, covering aspects like the number and types of plants, and the growth conditions.

Clearly defining your variables and controls ensures reliable, reproducible results. This meticulous planning sets the stage for meaningful data collection and accurate conclusions.

3. Nail your data collection, analysis, and interpretation.

Stick to the same procedures for data collection each time, maintaining consistency. Whether it’s measuring plant growth rates or any other parameter, use standardized tools and methods. Analyze your data using appropriate mathematical and statistical techniques to uncover patterns or trends.

Ensure reproducibility by conducting multiple trials or experiments. Accumulate sufficient data to support your conclusions, and be ready to explain how your methods ensure the validity of your findings.

4. Show creativity.

Standing out from the crowd often boils down to showcasing your creativity. This can take many forms, from innovative problem-solving approaches to unique methodologies.

For instance, instead of conventional materials, consider using sustainable or recycled materials for your prototype to address environmental concerns. Or, explore novel combinations of technologies, such as integrating machine learning algorithms with bioinformatics for a more holistic analysis.

Highlight these creative elements in your project description. This underscores how they enhance the originality and potential impact of your work.

5. Prepare an impressive presentation.

A top-notch presentation is key to effectively communicating your research to the judges. You can:

  • Arrange your poster in a logical manner, ensuring smooth transitions between sections.
  • Use clear graphics and charts to visually represent your data and findings. This helps judges grasp your work at a glance.
  • Employ color-coded graphs to differentiate between data sets or stages of progress.
  • Supplement your presentation with supporting documents, such as research papers or additional data, to substantiate your claims.

Also, practice delivering concise and coherent responses to potential questions. Focus on the key aspects and significance of your research.

6. Excel in the interview.

To excel in the interview, you must possess a deep understanding of the fundamental science behind your project and the ability to articulate your findings effectively. Be ready to explain the interpretation and limitations of your results, as well as their broader implications for the field of study. For example, if your research involves a novel drug delivery system, discuss its potential impact on patient outcomes and future research avenues.

Emphasize your independence in conducting the project, highlighting any challenges overcome and skills acquired. Also recognize the broader implications of your work in scientific, societal, and economic contexts.

7. Consult your mentors.

Seek guidance from mentors who have expertise in your research area. Regularly consult with your mentor to refine your methodology and analysis. Schedule weekly meetings to discuss your progress, troubleshoot any issues, and get feedback on your experimental design.

A teacher talking to her students

Then, incorporate their feedback to improve your project. Make sure to address any weaknesses or gaps they identify. By leveraging your mentor’s knowledge and experience, you can strengthen your research and increase your chances of success.

8. Highlight team collaboration (if applicable).

Divide the project tasks based on each member’s strengths and interests, and regularly meet to discuss progress and challenges. For example, one member might focus on data collection while another handles the analysis. Make sure everyone is familiar with all aspects of the project so that any member can answer questions during the presentation and interview.

Highlight the teamwork aspect in your project description. Show how each member’s unique contributions led to the overall success of the project. Effective collaboration not only improves your project but also showcases your ability to work as part of a team.

Regeneron ISEF 2024 Winners

Check out the 2024 Regeneron ISEF winners for inspiration and learn how to stand out with your own project.

1. Grace Sun, 16, from Lexington, Kentucky

Award: George D. Yancopoulos Innovator Award ($75,000)

Research title: “Doping in Organic Electrochemical Transistors”

Sun developed a better organic electrochemical transistor to help detect and treat serious illnesses like diabetes, epilepsy, and organ failure. Sun improved the laboratory performance of these devices by developing a new way of chemically treating their organic components.

2. Michelle Wei, 17, San Jose, California

Award: Regeneron Young Scientist Award ($50,000)

Research title: “A Novel Second-Order Cone Programming Algorithm”

Wei improved the speed and efficiency of software used in fields such as machine learning, transportation, and financial systems. Wei’s new algorithm involved finding a quick approximate solution to the second-order cone programming problem and splitting the initial cone into smaller cones, greatly outperforming previous approaches.

3. Justin Huang and Victoria Ou, 17, Woodlands, Texas

Award: Gordon E. Moore Award for Positive Outcomes for Future Generations ($50,000)

Research title: “Harnessing Ultrasound for Microplastic Filtration”

Huang and Ou created a prototype filtration system using ultrasonic waves to remove microscopic plastic particles from water. Their system’s acoustic force from high-frequency sound waves removed between 84% and 94% of suspended microplastic particles in a single pass. They are working to scale up and fine-tune their experimental system.

4. Ingrid Wai Hin Chan, 17, Hong Kong, China

Award: Craig R. Barrett Award for Innovation ($10,000)

Research title: “Multi-Sensory Mixed Reality Therapy for Dementia”

Wai Hin Chan developed a multi-sensory therapy app for dementia patients that uses virtual reality to practice physical and cognitive skills in a personalized, immersive environment. An eight-week study with six dementia patients showed cognitive improvements. The results suggested the app could be a viable alternative to in-person professional therapy.

5. Tanishka Balaji Aglave, 15, Valrico, Florida

Award: H. Robert Horvitz Prize for Fundamental Research ($10,000)

Research title: “Sustainable Citrus Greening Disease Management”

Balaji Aglave investigated a natural alternative treatment for citrus greening disease using an extract from the curry leaf tree. Tests showed that this method could effectively and sustainably manage the disease, offering a potential alternative to antibiotics currently used.

Conclusion

The Regeneron ISEF (formerly known as Intel ISEF) is an incredible opportunity for young scientists and engineers. It offers opportunities for innovation, recognition, and personal growth. By following a structured timeline, understanding the judging criteria, and applying our tips to enhance your project, you can maximize your chances of success.

science, technology, engineering, mathematics

Draw inspiration from past winners, but remember, your unique perspective and dedication are what truly set you apart. So, dream big, think outside the box, and you might just find your name among the ranks of esteemed champions.

FAQs

How many finalists are there in Regeneron ISEF?

Every year, Regeneron ISEF brings together over 1,600 finalists from across the globe. These finalists earn their spots through their local and regional ISEF-affiliated fairs, where they first present their independent research projects.

How do I choose a Regeneron ISEF project?

Select a project that interests you and addresses a clear, testable research question. Make sure your project fits into one of the ISEF categories and can be completed within 12 months of continuous research.

When will Regeneron ISEF 2025 be?

Regeneron ISEF 2025 is scheduled for May 10-16 in Columbus, Ohio. The Regeneron ISEF 2024 took place at the Los Angeles Convention Center in Los Angeles, California, from May 11-17, 2024.

What research projects does the Regeneron ISEF accept?

The Regeneron ISEF accepts original research projects in 22 scientific and engineering categories. But these exclude demonstrations, library research, informational projects, explanation models, and kit-building projects.

What is the difference between Regeneron ISEF and Regeneron STS?

Regeneron ISEF is an international science competition for high school students, while Regeneron STS (Science Talent Search) is a national competition in the United States for high school seniors. Both contests are run by the Society of Science.

What is the difference between Regeneron ISEF and Intel ISEF?

The main difference between Regeneron ISEF and Intel ISEF is sponsorship. Previously sponsored by Intel Corporation, ISEF is now sponsored by Regeneron Pharmaceuticals.

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