Tips for Contestants
Developing your project
Start early. You’ll have more time to explore and more flexibility to change course if things don’t go as planned.
Stick to the topic. Make sure that your objective is relevant to the alternative-energy theme and directly answers one of the challenges.
Focus. Tempting though it may be to try to solve many problems at once, keep in mind that you only have a few months to work and that thoroughness is important. Ask your advisor to help you define a reasonable scope for your project.
Be clear. State your objective as clearly as you can, then ask others who are unfamiliar with your project (including adults) what they think it means. If they don’t understand it or think it means something different from what you had intended, consider rephrasing your objective.
Start with research. Find out what’s already been done to meet your objective and what remains to be done. Become an expert in your area. What are the problems with or limitations of existing technologies, designs, methods, and/or policies? Can you develop ideas to address any of those issues?
Make a plan…together. Sit down together as a team and figure out what steps you need to take to achieve your solution. Map them out and work together to proceed through them methodically. If you discover that your plan isn’t yielding the desired results, don’t be afraid to change direction. But before you make a switch, talk with your teammates and consider thoroughly how your revised plan may bring you closer to your objective.
Define roles. Use the unique strengths of each of your team members—technical, business, and creative—to develop your project from all angles. Assign duties to team members, create a schedule, and check that tasks are completed on time.
Learn from your mistakes. Trial and error is the cornerstone of research. Many of the most important discoveries happen when things don’t go as planned. If your study isn’t turning out like you thought, try to find out why. You may find valuable insights in the answer. Even if you are getting the results you want, it’s important that you conduct multiple trials, because you may get a different result or learn something new the second or third time around.
Break new ground. Instead of recreating existing ideas, designs, or technologies, put your own twist on them. Or, develop new ideas altogether.
Be thorough. Begin by reading in depth about your topic. You can start by reviewing popular literature and scanning websites, but don’t stop there; if scientific literature would be informative as well, use it. Consider your topic from different perspectives. Ask for input from experts: teachers, parents, or Imagine Tomorrow expert volunteers. Asking others is not cheating. It is one of the best ways to learn. Collaborate and discuss your ideas widely. Back up secondary research with your own experiments or investigations. Support your conclusions solidly with data. Name your sources.
Do a reality check. Think of your project like a product, service, or plan that you’re creating for another party: a family, business, or government agency, for example. Identify who would use your project, then ask yourselves three important questions:
- How would your innovation or ideas be useful to that party?
- Would it be feasible to implement your plan or put your innovation into practice? (If not, what steps would be needed to make it so?)
- Would others find it desirable to use your plan or innovation? (Consider issues like cost, societal and individual expectations, and environmental factors—noise, odor, aesthetics, safety hazards, etc.—that might limit desirability. How could you mitigate those issues? How long will it take to recover the initial investment and start making a profit? Are measurable benefits great enough to override any disadvantages?)
The most successful projects will be useful, feasible, and desirable.
Identify what still needs to be done. Even the greatest of ideas has limitations. For example, your idea may face policy hurdles, it may require a shift in the consumer mindset, or it may need ways to trim costs. It’s important that you be able to identify your project’s limitations and tell the judges what still needs to be done.
Fine-tune your presentation. Remember, you’ll have just five minutes to communicate your objective, results, and conclusions to the judges. Take the time to create a clear, well-organized presentation that showcases your solid research and creativity.
Include the four key steps.
- Background. Summarize the problem under investigation or the hypothesis you will explore.
- Methods. Identify the methods or protocols you use to accomplish your research or design.
- Results. Provide an overview of the key points of your study. Your presentation should have enough depth to allow judges to evaluate the content.
- Conclusions. Summarize your findings.
Keep your display poster simple. Brief text lets judges scan your most important ideas quickly. Use photos and illustrations where appropriate to drive home key points.
Put details in a handout. Judges will find it easier to read detailed information in a handout than on your poster. Bring multiple copies to share. If your team has a website, include your URL in the handout, so judges can visit the site on their own.
Double-check your facts. Be sure that numbers add up and facts make sense. Review them so that you understand what they all mean.
Practice answering questions. Judges will expect every team member to be able to answer any question about the project. Think of questions that you might be asked, then work with your teammates to articulate and rehearse responses.
Shining on competition day
Don’t hold back. Have fun and show your enthusiasm! Feel free to ask the judges questions. Only you can convince them how awesome your project really is.
Work together. All team members should share equally in presenting the project and responding to judges’ questions. Practice in advance so that all of you are informed.
Get to the point. When speaking or answering questions, be as simple and direct as possible. Focus on the question asked, limit details, and don’t wander off on tangents. Your goal is to communicate your point quickly and clearly.
Dress professionally. You don’t need to be formal, but please be appropriate. Leave the tank tops, ripped jeans, short shorts, crop tops, and flip flops at home.
Bring a calculator. If a judge asks a numeric question that you hadn’t considered, you’ll be ready to calculate the answer on the spot.
Check out the competition! Walk around and see what your fellow competitors are doing. You’ll learn volumes just by observing.
What will the judges really think?
Read what judges have said about award-winning Imagine Tomorrow projects.
Does your project follow five key steps?
To be sure, review the presentation guidelines.
Quick facts about energy
Energy must have a source. All energy comes from somewhere. You cannot create energy, only convert it and move it around. For example, rotating magnets do not create new energy. They convert kinetic energy into electrical energy.
Conversion results in energy loss. When you convert one type of energy into another, some energy slips away. For instance, when you convert the energy in gasoline into mechanical energy to run a car, as much as a quarter of the energy is Iost due to friction and other factors. Improving the efficiency of energy conversion can result in huge energy savings.