What is CABS?

This site will help high school students and teachers find original, independent science research topics and questions that can be done without a professional lab...these can be done in a school lab or even in one's basement! The project ideas and research questions being developed and presented here have been vetted and could lead to true discoveries, and not just finding already known results. See our Welcome message. These are the types of projects that could be done and submitted to high school contests such as the Regeneron Science Talent Search or Siemens Science Competition, and be competitive. If you have an idea to share, or a question about one of the project ideas, contact us at vondracekm@eths202.org.

Pages (on the right side of the screen) have lists of ideas for different types of science research projects, and clicking on one of those ideas will take you to posts with details and all sorts of information about that type of project. Get more information about why there is a need for CABS!

Experimental Research Ideas

Below are project topic and research question ideas. These have been checked and should allow for original research opportunities - that is, you could make actual discoveries and novel findings for each of these projects! And  you should not need access to a professional laboratory, but rather can design and build an experiment in your school lab or even in your own house.

As this site develops over time, just click on a topic of interest, and it will take you to a separate blog post about that specific topic. You will find background information, relevant links to articles, vocabulary, experimental methods, videos, and so on. Hopefully you will find enough information to actually be able to do the project!

Experimental Topics and Research Questions:


  • Coiling of viscous jet in water – could vary diameter of container, width of jet, height from which honey falls into water, temp of water, vary width of container, have multiple layers of fluids (oils on water), uneven bottom of container, depth of water in the container (how do number, radius, width of honey strand, and vertical stretch between coils vary when other variables are changed); 2 or more honey jets at various distances from each other to see if they affect each other compared to a single jet; what happens when the honey stream pours into water that is rotating (put glass on a turn table, for instance)?; what if stream is poured onto a surface that oscillates vertically at various frequencies and amplitudes; poured onto a surface that is angled; any differences in coiling in salt water vs. plain tap water or distilled water. 

  • Faraday waves over large frequency range (see an example)
  • Faraday waves mimicking particles in quantum mechanics - http://web.mit.edu/newsoffice/2010/quantum-mechanics-1020.html
  • Oscillate water droplets with oil drop sitting on top – do you still get Faraday waves?
  • Effect of liquid drops falling on drops sitting on hard surface; effect of single grain falling on liquid drop (drop at rest, or vibrating, or flowing when grain lands)
  • Flow pathways of single droplets  
  • Is there an optimal pattern of irrigation channels for crops? Interesting idea of fractals and planting patterns. A lot of work has been done on irrigation for farming, but one can make original projects in irrigation for larger, local gardens or other areas that require controlled water flow. Think community garden areas, the properties of local soil, the slopes of the local and regional landscape, if there are local or regional plants being grown that require different amount of water, local and regional weather patterns, whether there needs to be changing irrigation patterns if there is crop rotation done from year to year, and so on. This could make for interesting long-term research projects for schools in rural farming areas. 
  • Minimal conditions for a hydraulic jump to form (flow rate, jet width, height of fall, etc)
  • Petri dish with thin layer of water oscillating over  large range of frequencies – are there conditions that allow pattern formation?
  • Boundary walls in turbulent water (Sci Am June 2013)
  • Stationary hydraulic jump: Activity to demonstrate how to find research questions from seemingly simple phenomena, and which could be true discovery questions
  • Stationary hydraulic jump – Effects of jet structure (see an example)
  • Stationary hydraulic jump on inclines (see an example
  • Non-cylindrical jet hitting surface, such as a liquid sheet: is there a jump?
  • Fluid mixing – jet mixing from laminar and turbulent jets (see an example)
  • Fluid mixing - when streams of two liquids flow ('collide') with each other
  • Liquids falling through other liquids: Rayleigh-Taylor instabilities  http://gizmodo.com/theres-some-complex-physics-in-these-photos-of-ink-fall-1749529870 for pics of ink droplets in water
  • Multiple jets – interaction between two hydraulic jump systems (see an example)
  • Polygonal jumps (higher viscosity)
  • Effect of turbulent jet on jump
  • Flow patterns/currents in rotating dishes or containers
  • Flow and wave patterns of a wave table with water draining out of hole in center; table could be rotating
  • Rotational superradiant scattering in a vortex flow (Nature Physics article)
  • Water with oil layer draining from a wave table
  • Fluids flowing through various sized spouts or funnels
  • Effect of thin layer(s) or sand/granular on surface for hydraulic jump formation; same with thin layer of oil on surface
  • Vertically vibrated fluids (varying viscosities)
  • Fluid modeling (Navier-Stokes equations)
  • Define patterns on inclines mathematically
  • Hydraulic jump on rotating surface
  • Hydraulic jump on ‘see-saw’ surface or vertically oscillating surface (see an example)
  • Effects of local disturbances/obstacles on hydraulic jump
  • Effect of surface temperature on hydraulic jump
  • Can there be a vertical hydraulic jump? Let a nearly horizontal jet of water (or other liquid) hitting a vertical wall, angled wall.
  • Effect on hydraulic jump when jet falls on a bump/needle of varying diameters
  • Jet falling on tip of a cone, is there a hydraulic jump? Is there a minimum radius for the tip? Does a jump form on the angled sides (vary angle)? If not water, higher viscosity fluids?
  • Time evolution of surface properties/patterns as water fills a container 
  • Splashing, splash suppression on surfaces (see an example); droplets splashing (see an example; as drop hits, flattens, and goes up, is there any connection between that radius and a jump's radius)
  • The effect of drops of liquid falling on granular surfaces (see an example); much has been done studying craters left by solid objects, but what about something like water balloons (or balloons filled with viscous liquids, some water and some solid material in same balloon, etc)?
  • Time evolution of evaporating drops
  • When do streams and drops of liquids break up? See an example.
  • Fluid flow of all typed as function of surface temperature
Numerous fluid articles on John Bush's MIT site (applied math professor), including hydraulic Bump, pilot wave dynamics, bouncing droplets, walking droplets, and more. Many good ideas and variations can be done on these.

Granular Materials

  • Vertically vibrated sand, bronze powder (see an example)
  • Vertically vibrated, surface angled
  • High frequency vibrated granulars (> 100 Hz) (see an example)
  • Avalanching experimentation (see an example)
  • Wind-blown granular (difficult to do simulations of sand storms, experimental work with this type of phenomenon)
  • Vertically vibrated patterns as function of air pressure (in bell jar)
  • Vertically vibrated granulars on rotating surface
  • Properties of damp/wet granular systems
  • Simultaneous horizontal and vertical vibrations
  • Rotated systems – separation of mixtures
  • Vibrated mixed systems, various sized grains
  • Effect of humidity and moisture on granular material behaviors
  • Time evolution of mixing of layers in vertically vibrated granulars (see an example)
  • Effect of barriers/walls in container of vertically vibrated granulars; is there any horizontal movements of grains, or do patterns remain same despite vertical barriers (see an example)
  • Effect of temperature changes on granular systems
  • Stratification and segregation in heap formation (see an example)
  • Pile behavior while being ‘sucked’ by a vacuum
  • Pile formation when grains are blown into vertical surfaces of varying shapes
  • Bulldozing a pile - same size grains, vs mix of sizes, shapes, etc.
  • Flow down funnels
  • Pendulum swinging into piles of granular materials, distribution after the collisions (can change angle of impact, size of pendulum bob, string pendulum vs rigid pendulum, size of grains, homo- vs heterogeneous mixtures of grains, same vs variety of sizes of grains, dimensions of pile, dry vs moist piles, etc.)
  • Thin streams or 'jets' of fine granular material falling on hard surfaces, liquid surfaces, other granular surfaces; try experiments similar to what is done with thin jets of liquid falling, such as hydraulic jump type experiments - compare and contrast the two sets of experiments, what are the main differences? 
  • Effect of single grain falling into drops of liquid; single grain falling into a drop of vibrating liquid (such as with Faraday waves on the drop's surface)
  • Single grains falling onto single layer of granular material; or two, three, n+1 layers; could try same size or differing sized grains falling compared to grains on surface.
  • Deep layers being vibrated
  • Technique to see individual particles in a granular collection, http://www.charlotteobserver.com/news/science-technology/article55149400.html 
NU: http://www.physics.nwu.edu/research/nonlin.html


Materials: Fragmentation, Cracking/Breaking/Splintering Properties/Collisions

  • Blow to sticks of various materials (such as by a pendulum), and fragmentation and/or breaking patterns exhibited by those materials
  • Blow to sheets of materials, and denting and/or cracking and/or fragmentation and/or breaking patterns exhibited by those materials
  • Fragmentation of sticks, such as spaghetti - a classic study of taking a cylindrical stick, klike dry spaghetti, and bending it until if breaks. What are the properties of this? This type of study can be done for any type stick, material, size, thickness, etc. (see an example)
  • Materials under pressure: cracking/fragmentation/breaking points exhibited by those materials. How does thickness affect results? Layering? Shape of object?
  • Blow to foam materials; do drilled out patterns change the dynamics of the collisions? (see an example)
  • Studies of all the above as a function of shape, geometry of the material sample
  • Studies of all the above for samples of materials brand new versus worn/used samples; do existing scratches or indentations cause significant differences in these properties under the same experimental conditions?

Heat Flow

  • Temperature distributions within containers (see an example)
  • Heat flow in materials (see an example)
  • Temperature distributions and time dependency in materials with oscillating heat source (see an example)
  • Heat refraction (heat flow from one material to another; see an example)
  • Temperature distributions in fluids due to heat source (point source vs uniform exposure; with and without currents, turbulence; geometry and size of container; depth of liquid)
  • Effect of surface temperature on frictional properties (see an example)

Complex Systems


  • Counterintuitive behavior of mechanical systems (see an example)
  • Synchronization of metronomes on a common surface (see an example
  • Synchronization of coupled double pendula (see a modeling example)
  • Magnetic drag forces (see an example)


Ecological Field Studies

  • Use of drones to study local areas of interest. Could include population studies of different types of animals, land coverage of different local plant species. Interesting studies could include doing this before and after a nearby construction project, and how that affects adjacent ecosystems. This could evolve into longer-term class/program studies, where students do the same counts year after year to measure any changes that occur. Drones have come down drastically in price, and could lead to all sorts of creative, novel studies like the ones mentioned! Be creative, think local - chances are a study you have in mind has not been done before, especially in rural settings. Check with your local town hall for records of what has and has not been done, do something original! 
  •  Included in the drone studies could be ongoing chemical analyses of soil and/or any water sources within the defined ecosystem. Could also include biological studies of soil and water sources, for example doing counts of different insects and organisms within the sample. Do these measurements change over time? If so, what is driving the changes? Teachers could develop a robust, long-term research program around this type of work, either with classes or through individual students taking it on as a research project. 

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