Science Fair: Bored No More




Introduction: Science Fair: Bored No More

About: From Arduino to Rube Goldberg follow along as we explore engineering together. With a focus on electronics come see projects based on 3d printing, physics, and fun. Mod your toys, upgrade your tools, and custo…

Science fair boards have failed to evolve over the last 50+ years. It is time to break away from the "Look but don't touch" mentality of Science Fairs. Using Arduino, Big buttons, Servos and LED's we can add interactivity to the science fair boards of the future. My goal is to make science fairs more interesting to my fellow students and spectators to get them excited about science and engineering.

Step 1: Overview

"Bored No More"
Interactive Display Board

When you press one of the buttons on the control panel multiple events happen depending on the button pressed. A photo wheel will spin and display a photo in the picture window for every button. The associated back-lit stencil will light up highlighting the appropriate section of the board to look at. Other events such as a door will open, a photo spinner will start, or the credits roll will be activated. The main features I have built and have working:

  • Control panel with 5 large LED arcade buttons ~ Good for attracting attention of both young and old.
  • Rotating picture wheel with a view window on the board ~ Foam core wheel powered by stepper motor
  • Flip up door to reveal additional information ~ Foam core door on coat hanger wire powered by a servo
  • Moving arrow to attract attention ~ Foam core arrow on coat hanger wire powered by a servo
  • Pentagon shaped photo spinner ~ Made with foam core powered by small DC motor
  • Spinning cylinder for a credit roll ~ 3d printed frame and gears powered by small DC motor
  • Light up stencil signs ~ Invisible until back-light led's turn on

Step 2: ​Parts List

1 × Arduino Uno

1 × Stepper Motor 5v

2 × Hobby Motors

5 × Jumbo LED Arcade Buttons

1 × RGB Neopixels Strip

1 × Adafruit Perma-Proto Half-sized Breadboard

1 × 9V Power Supply

1 × 5V Power Supply

1 × Adafruit Arduino Motor Shield

2 × Hobby Servo or

1 × Tri-fold Science Fair Board

1 × White Shelving Board

5 × Lots of hookup wire

1 × Heat Shrink

1 × Duck Tape

1 × Card Stock

2 × Foam Core Board(1 white & 1 Reflective)

1 × Header Board for tri-fold science fair board

1 × Wire Coat Hanger

1 × Rubber Cement

8+ × Resistors

1 × Capacitor

1 × Solder

100 × Patience

1000 × Determination

1 × Strip of arduino header pins

Step 3: Dream It!

I Google search on science fair boards and I used Google image search to look at what other projects looked like. There were some real good looking projects but little innovation in the boards themselves. It is time to break away from the same tri-fold board that has been used for the last 50+ years. Innovation and interactivity has touched almost every part of our lives in that time. So why not science fairs? With today's inventions like X-Box and smart phones we have become accustomed to interacting with the products we use. Last year I entered the science fair I added a few new features to my board. I had signs that you could flip up and a wheel you could spin. These were not used because the rules were look but don't touch. Science is not abut that. In science you need to be hands on. So I decided there needed to be a change. I learned how to use Arduino over the summer as I worked my way through the "Experimenter's Guide for Arduino". This taught me the basics of Arduino programming. With the knowledge of what was possible I began to imagine what a modern science fair board could be.

Step 4: Brainstorm

  • What features do I want

I wanted the ideas that failed on my last board to work on this one. So a big spinning wheel placed behind the board with a cut out window to show different photos was a must. Another thing that I wanted was flip up doors to show additional information. I also wanted a "attention getter" something moving on the top of my board to attract kids and parents to my display. Once you learn Arduino you know LED's are a must have feature so that also made the list.

  • How to make it work

After the features were picked the question of how to make the board work needed to be solved. I would use an Arduino for the brain but how would the students be able to interact with the board was the next problem to solve. Big buttons is my solution. Who dose not like big glowing buttons? By using the buttons to control the different features people could interact with what the board was doing. This would increase the effectiveness of the points I was trying to communicate. Also by connecting with your viewers they will be more likely to remember your project even after the fair.

Step 5: Can It Be Done?

  • Do I have access to the parts?

Most of the parts I needed to test my idea were
included in the Arduino experimenters kit. Specialty parts like the big buttons could be purchased online latter. Thanks to online vendors like and just about anything I could imagine could be built. Can I get help if I am stuck? When you are pushing the edge of your knowledge it is nice to know there is someone out there to help if you get stuck. I used the Arduino forums and learning guides to fill in any gaps. Both of these communities are eager to help and will give you quick responses to any question.

  • How long will it take?

This was a hard one. I had no idea so I started way early. Then news came down that my school might not have a science fair this year. Talk about disappointment. When I heard this I quit working on my project. What a big mistake. The school changed it mind and now I found myself behind. The best advice I can give is start early and finish with time to spare. Or you can do what I did and work all night every night leading up to the fair and just barley get it working so you have something to display.

  • Will it break any rules?

According to the Intel science fair rules I was in the clear. You are allowed to use a power strip and my project fit the size requirements. But my school had a wiring hazard clause in their rules. If this is the case it is time to talk to your teachers and beg for a exemption. I had to explain that there was little risk because everything was powered by less than 9 volts. Although my wires were a mess I used heat shrink and good soldering practices to prevent any short circuits. Plus I used puppy dog eyes when I asked.

Step 6: Design It

  • Sketch look and feel

I used graph paper to sketch out my design and
referred to this sketch many times during the build. The sketch prevented me from getting carried away with new ideas that could of interfered with my design. I recommend you always start with a sketch if for no other reason just to have something to inspire to when the build gets tough.

  • Will it fit?

There are many different moving parts on this board and I had to get creative to get them all to fit. This is where the sketch came in the most handy. The last thing you want is for two moving parts to collide and break during the fair. The other thing to consider is you schools rules on how big the science fair board is allowed to be.

  • Paper or Plastic

The moving parts had to be built out of something and what material to use was a big question. Due to cost, weight, and availability I chose to build as much as possible out of foam core. Some other parts were to be out of plastic or metal coat hanger wire. Depending on the use and durability (will it work all day?) is how I chose where to use what material.

Step 7: Parts and Equipment

  • Part list

Create a parts list of what you have on hand and what you need to buy. Try to be as through as possible. It will surprise you of all the little things that will add up. Some will be forgotten if you don't write them down when you are thinking about them. This will help prevent last minuet trips to the hardware store and extra shipping costs for forgotten items.

  • Make budget

Try to figure out how much each feature will cost and compare that to your budget. If you cannot afford a feature it may be better to leave it off rather than to give up or get stuck on your project. Some features are connected to each other because of a part they use. In this case try to make sure you have the room in the budget to get the most bang for your buck.

  • Place order

Try to place your order with as few vendors as possible because of shipping costs. Keep a eye out for free shipping deals. This is where your parts list comes in real handy. Try to resist the impulse items and stick to what you need for your project. If you do require any tools think about how often you will use them to help determine if you get the cheap or name brand version. Tools will far outlast any project so if you will use them on more than one project get the best tool you can afford. You will thank yourself latter.

Step 8: Research: the More the Merrier

  • What I know

Read about each component you are using to learn how it works and how it dose not work. This will prevent you from getting stuck in the late stages of the project. I knew that any one of the features I hoped to build could be done by itself. This is important to give you the confidence to get through the next step. But would they work together?

  • What I don't know

With any big project what you don't know is what will stop progress faster than anything. As you start to combine parts and Arduino code unexpected things may happen. Additional research when you hit these problems will help and if you get truly stuck ask on the forums. I had a problem with servos and neopixels not playing nice. Thanks to the adafruit neopixel uber guide I was able to find a different library for the servos that did play nice and get back to work. This was a couple day delay because I had failed to do my research before I started. Learn form my mistakes or don't you may learn more that way.

Step 9: 3d Printed Part Design

  • Design in sketch up

I knew before I started that I would use some 3d printed parts. You do not need to but a 3d printer but they make creating new things so easy. With this in mind I started thinking about where 3d printed parts would help out. Attaching things to motor shafts, strengthening the foam core parts, and prototyping gear ratios is where I used it the most. I use sketch up to draw the parts for my printer. I like sketch up because it is free and easy to use. There are many good alternatives like 123d, tinkercad, and others. Use what you feel the most comfortable with or download the parts I made from and print them.

  • 3d Print

Print early and often. Many times the first print dose not work. The size may be wrong or the shape could be improved. Just save time for reprinting when things do not go to plan. It is called rapid prototyping but when you are in a time crunch it does not feel rapid at all.

Step 10: Build It Small First

  • Prototype circuit and code

I had tested all the parts
separately but now it is time to put the together. This is where many small problems creep up. It is best to start on a bread board instead of just jumping in with the soldering iron. I used small cheap components to test like small push buttons and micro servos. Jumper wires and alligator clips are your friends at this stage. With the prototype I made sure each feature was working like I planned when they were all combined together. Small adjustments to servo travel distance and delay lengths were tested. Did I mention to save your work! I forgot to save my work one night and when I came back home from school windows update had restarted the computer and I lost all the settings I had worked on the night before. Just hit the save button every time you upload, take a break, or take a drink of your favorite soda.

  • Scale up

When every thing is working the way you want it
to then scale up to your more expensive parts. This is where I tested the big push buttons and full size servos. I also realized I could get away with a micro servo for the flip up door. So sometimes when you scale up you learn that you can scale back down and reduce cost. After all the bugs are worked out and the final components are working it is time to start the main build.

  • Code and code some more

Writing this code was touch and go. You know how scale up from a model to a prototype, you suddenly have 57 bugs in your code? (If you've coded before, then you probably have) Well, I got lucky and was granted 67+ bugs in my code. So I turned to the best exterminator I knew: The Internet. I probably searched for a million different solutions, and was grateful when I found one. Which brings to mind the scientific method: Try, fail, Try, fail, repeat, repeat, repeat, repeat, succeed, move on to the next step.

I will post my code at the end of this Instructable.


Step 11: Button Board

  • Layout

The layout of the button board had to be determined before I bought the wood. Measure the big buttons and add a little wiggle room. I chose a simple straight line of buttons but there are endless combinations you can consider. I bought a white bookshelf board from Lowe's hardware and covered it in blue tape to prevent scratches. Then I measured where all the buttons would go and drew there locations in pencil on the tape.

  • Out to the work shop

I used a drill press to make the holes. This helped keep every thing nice and straight. You could use a hand drill if that is what you have. First I drilled a small hole with a regular drill bit. Then I used that hole to center the 1" spade drill to cut the hole to size. You could use a hole saw if you do not have a spade drill. I then cut some scrap wood into triangles to use for legs. This held the board at a angle and made for a inviting display of buttons. If you put the buttons in a different pattern remember that you will need room on the back side for wires.

Step 12: Customize Tri-Fold Board Part 1

Customize Tri-Fold Board Part 1

Foam core parts:

  • Picture wheel

The picture wheel will go in the
middle section of the tri-fold board so I measured that and made the wheel as large as I could. To cut the wheel I used a small nail pushed through the middle of the circle and a string attached to it to set the length. First I tied a pencil to the other end of the string and made a outline. Then I replaced the pencil with a X-acto blade to make the cut. Go slow and make many passes until you cut all the way through the foam core board. It dose not have to be perfect.When it is mounted you wont be able to see the edge. Then use the nail, string and pencil to mark off even sections around the edge. Draw a line from the center to your mark on the edge. This will tell you how many photos will fit on your board. Taking a photo and moving it up in one of the sections until the top corners of the photo touch your lines will determine the location for the window you will cut in the tri-fold board latter.

  • Photo spinner

For the photo spinner I measured a photo then drew rectangles on a leftover piece of foam core.I was able to fit five photos. I then cut out the outside line to remove it from my piece of scrap. In-between where the photos would be I carefully cut threw the foam core leaving some material so it would bend into a pentagon shape. I then taped the ends together.With the shape solid I traced the inside of the pentagon onto another piece of foam core. This gave me the size I needed to cut out for the bottom. The part I traced moved a little so it was not perfect but with a little duck tape it all worked out in the end.

  • Header board

I attached the full size servo to the header board using zip ties. I cut small holes in the header board and laced the zip ties threw it. This made raised bumps where the zip ties went threw. This made my title sign not lay flat. If I were to do it again I would of buy two header boards and glued the second on top of the first to hide the bumps.

  • Flip Up Door

The flip up door was sized to fit two photos one above the other. This was also cut out of foam core. I used duck tape to act like a hinge on my board but a better solution would be to cut some thin cardboard to attach to the underside of the door and tri-fold board.

  • Back-light Boxes

The light up stencil signs have light boxes attached to the back of the tri-fold board. They are also made of foam core but I selected a board that had a reflective sticker to help bounce the light out toward the stencils. I think white would work just fine if you can not find any reflective board. The light boxes are made with one open side that attaches to the tri-fold board. I sized the boxes to the stencil I was using and used a X-acto blade to cut out all the parts and attached them together using duck tape. I also cut small holes for the wires to pass threw.

  • Side Panels

To fit all the features I needed more space on my tri-fold board so I cut two additional sides to the board the same size as the small sections of the tri-fold board. These were attached to the board using duck tape as well.

Step 13: Customize Tri-Fold Board Part 2

Customize Tri-Fold Board Part 2

Bring me the knife!

  • Measure twice

The tri-fold board will need many cut outs. I cannot stress enough how critical measurement is at this point. Mark where all the cuts will be in pencil and check with a ruler before getting the knife. Regret is a horrible feeling. Use a metal ruler when you make your cuts.

  • Stepper motor

In the center section of the tri-fold find the center and trace the outline of the stepper motor. The stepper motor will stick out the front of the board in order for the photo wheel to lay flat against the back of the board. Attach the stepper motor using zip ties threaded into the board.

  • Servo door

The servo will be attach to the back of the board and will need a slot for the arm to move up and down. Make this slot a little bigger than you think because the arm can get stuck when the door is all the way open or closed. Attach the servo using zip ties as well.

  • Photo wheel window

Measure from the center of the wheel to the top of the photo and copy this measurement on to the tri-fold board from the center of the stepper motor. This will be the top of the window. Then place a photo on the board with the top centered on your mark and trace around it. With the marks in place it is time to cut.

Step 14: Assembly Part 1 (Hardware)

  • Servo Arms

The servo arms are made of metal coat hanger wire. The wire is bent to allow screws to attach to the servo horn and hold the wire in place. You will need one arm for the door and one for the attention getter sign.

  • Soldering

Make good notes on how your breadboard setup works and transfer it onto a proto board. I used a adafruit perma proto half size breadboard. Included are the resistors for the LED lights, debounce resistors for the buttons, and power socket for the neopixels with a filter capacitor. I used an adafruit motor shield that also required some soldering. I needed some stacking headers and they were soldered in place as well.

  • Wiring

The wires for all the buttons are soldered directly to the perma board. The other end having quick disconnect connectors for the buttons. The buttons have different size connections for the LED's and button. I used for the connections. I soldered the connectors to the wires. You will need four wires for each button. There is also a JST connector soldered on for the neopixels.

Step 15: Assembly Part 2 (3d Printed Parts)

  • Photo wheel

The photo wheel uses a two piece clamp style hub. This helps to spread
out the turning force on the foam core to prevent t from becoming lose on the stepper motor. The two parts are attached using four screws. Then press fit onto the stepper motor shaft.

  • Photo spinner

The photo spinner has a hub that is hot glued onto the bottom. This attaches to the small hobby DC motor. This hub has four grippers that push into the foam core to help hold into place. There is also a bracket for the DC motor that is attached to the board using zip ties.

  • Credit spinner

The credit spinner is the most complicated part on the board. It took many different revisions to get it to work. The final product is still not perfect and could use some more thought. There are two frame pieces for each side of the spinning oatmeal can that attach to the board using zip ties. One of these has a holder for the DC motor. There is also two gears. The large gear is supper glued to the oatmeal can. The other fits onto the DC motor. The whole assembly is held together using a piece of coat hanger wire through the middle of the can and into the frame pieces. This is one of my favorite ideas but is very troublesome to get it to work. The large gear must be perfectly centered when it is glued in place. Mine is not. The motor will get stuck if it is not right. I also have trouble getting it to spin so it is overpowered at the start and then spins to fast to read. A stepper motor would have been a better solution than the DC motor. This would of given me more control of the motors speed.

Step 16: Test It:

In House

  • Dose it work

Test each feature over and over.Are there any problems? Make adjustments to the parts or code as
need be. I changed the servo travels after I had them mounted to the board. Another issue was the connection to the stepper motor twisting causing the photo wheel to get stuck. This was fixed with duck tape. I also changed some of the delays to better fit the project.

  • Will it last

Keep it running for at least a couple of hours to see if there are any other issues. The last thing you want is for something to get stuck and damage a part during the fair. It is best for this to happen at home so you can fix the problem. It may will need to run all day and into the night unattended.

In Public

  • Setup problems (Don't Panic!)

My power and ground wire came disconnected from the Arduino during the move form home to the fair. When I put it back in place it was not in the right pins. When I turned it on all sorts of new and weird things started to happen. (Now Panic!) It took me a while checking all the connections and scratching my head before I realized this simple mistake. I worked my way down all the connections in my notes before I found it. Have I mentioned to take good notes?

  • Did it hold up?

The photo wheel came off when two boys decided to team up and slam all five buttons at once shaking the wheel lose. It was a easy fix but to prevent it happening again I put some rubber cement on the stepper motor shaft to help hold everything together. Lesson learned boys don't push buttons they slam them but that's okay.

  • Feedback

Both parents and students loved the project and there was a line most of the night. Buttons are a big hit. My observations is that the more moving parts the better. One parent wanted to know where to buy the kit for the board until I showed him my custom wire job. Better wire management was his recommendation.

Step 17: Improve It

What did work

The attention getter sign drew in the crowd and the buttons kept them busy. The most pushed button opened the servo door. More doors would of been nice. The LED's gave the project a attractive glow and set it apart from the other projects.

What did not work

The wheel fell off and needed glue to help hold it in place. The wheel also dragged on the board and got off time. So I added spacers to the stepper motor to prevent it from dragging. I put delays in for the stencil lights to draw attention to different sections of the board. The delays were to long and people kept trying to push another button before the delay ended. My wires were to long and were a pain to manage during setup and tare down.

Step 18: Final Results

Ben Heck of the stopped by and gave it a try

  • At Maker Faire Detroit 2014

With the problems fixed I was off to Maker Fair Detroit. I handed out 500 business cards and ran out on the second day. The allure of buttons proved to strong for many of the walkers by. One little girl was inspired to learn that this project was built by a girl. That little girl made all the struggles I had building it worth while. Suggestions for more features were many. My favorite was to add sound.

Step 19: Future Improvements

  • More interactivity

More buttons large and small to
control new features. A big dial would be cool what to use it for is still a mystery to me. Sound would be a great improvement. LED bar graphs to represent changes in data over time would be a good feature.

  • Better wire management

I need to shorten the wires and bundle them together.I could also use to label the wires so I don't confuse them during setup. This would add to the professional look to the project.

  • Improve documentation

My notes saved me more times than I can count. I need to go back and get them better organized. They are scattered across a few different notebooks. I should of taken more photos and video during the build. It is hard to stop working when you are on a roll but I missed a bunch of important steps along the way. Lesson learned the hard way.

Step 20: Help Me Spread the Word

I have entered this in a contest but if I see someone that has built one in the wild then I will feel like a true winner! If I do win a 3d printer at home would be a big help. Right now I have to go up to my dad's work and that is hard to do during school. With more time to print my designs would improve and more plastic = more instructables!
I have posted my files on, and linked to my web page and youtube account. Please stop by and give me a view. Please help me spread the word by sending emails and telling anyone that might be interested in making a interactive science fair board about this project. Thank you for reading I hope you were inspired to make a interactive science fair board for your next fair. I want to see other people take this idea and make it there own. We need to get people excited about science and engineering.

Never Stop Improving!


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Second Prize in the
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    16 Discussions

    great work, keep it up :) congrats on being a finalist, you deserve it!

    shared your project on my twitter ;)


    5 years ago

    Great idea... My science fair is coming up... Look at my Solar Battery, using that for it. On my page


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the votes! I think your project is a winner. Anything we can do to save energy makes a difference for the environment. Good luck.


    5 years ago

    Also voted for all 3


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Wow, great articulate presentation, you sound like a physicist of tomorrow.

    I wish Science Fairs were a more popular concept here in Australia, especially when I was your age (far too many decades ago).

    You've inspired me to purchase that Arduino I've been considering for some time.

    Keep working towards the t-shirt, you have my vote.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the vote and the nice comment! If you do get an Arduino beware they are addictive. I have four of them now.


    5 years ago on Introduction

    Great work! Keep it up. It is awesome to see someone so young doing such cool things and sharing them with others. Voted


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for the nice comment and for the vote. I am trying to win a instructable's T-shirt. Any and all other prizes are also welcome! I have a few ideas saved up now that I am on fall break I have time to get them posted. I love your page!


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    You are most welcome, and thank you! If you don't win that T-shirt, you let me know. I have one that doesnt fit me. It may be a bit big on you though.


    5 years ago

    This is such a cool project followed;)


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks for following many more projects to come. Hard to find the time to build and post. I just need to rember my slogan "never stop improving"! Easy to say can be hard to do.


    5 years ago

    This is really cool! As someone who likes to add lights and buttons to anything, I approve. =D


    Reply 5 years ago

    The second graders agreed. I hope to add sound for next years fair and more buttons and lights of course.


    Reply 5 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! I love instructables because it help me spread the word about my projects.