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CPHS_Honors Science 9 - Science Fair Project: Primary vs. Secondary Resources

This guide will assist CPHS Honors Science 9 students in completing research for their Science Fair projects. Standards Met:,,

Primary versus Secondary Resources

PRIMARY RESOURCES are resources that are original, firsthand evidence.PRIMARY RESOURCES include original documents such as diaries, records, autobiographies, letters, interviews, and research reports. The Diary of Anne Frank would be an example. PRIMARY RESOURCES also include an original creative work such as novels, paintings, and musical scores. An example would be The Mona Lisa by Leonardo da Vinci.  A final type of PRIMARY RESOURCE would be an artifact like pottery, buildings, or clothing. The ruby slippers that Judy Garland wore while playing Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz would be an example.

SECONDARY RESOURCES, on the other hand, analyze or interpret a PRIMARY RESOURCE. They are usually produced after an event. Textbooks, encyclopedias, and magazine articles would be examples. For instance, a biography on the life of  Queen Victoria written after her death is a SECONDARY RESOURCE.

So, in the field of Science, Albert Einstein's lab book, a picture of Einstein, or Enistein's autobiography are PRIMARY RESOURCES. An article, published in 2013, in which a journalist writes about Einstein's greatest achievements would be a SECONDARY RESOURCE.

Check out this short video from the Minnesota Historical Society:

Primary Resource EXAMPLE

The Ice Bucket Challenge has recently brought the world's attention to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). If you were interested in doing your Science Fair project on ALS, you might look at interviews with those impacted by ALS and/or research scientists who research this disease. This interview with Dr. H. Robert Horvitz, an ALS expert whose father died of ALS, would be an example of a PRIMARY RESOURCE. The interview is described on YouTube in this way:

Dr. Robert Horvitz, a Professor of Biology at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, an investigator with the Howard Hughes Medical Institute, and winner of the 2002 Nobel Prize in Physiology, discusses his personal connection with Lou Gehrig's disease as well as the importance of funding in ALS research to capitalize on the wealth of new tools and potential therapies that have recently emerged. This is an extended cut of an interview of Dr. Horvitz that was featured in the video 'Driving Breakthroughs in ALS Research: Prize4Life and the $1M ALS Biomarker Prize.That video can be seen here:

Secondary Resource EXAMPLE

The Ice Bucket Challenge has recently brought the world's attention to ALS (Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis). If you were interested in doing your Science Fair project on ALS, you might look at this article from The World of Genetics, and found in our "Science in Context" database. It provides biographical information about Dr. H. Robert Horvitz and summarizes the work he has done in ALS research. It is an example of a SECONDARY RESOURCE.

H. Robert Horvitz

  • Born: May 08, 1947 in Chicago, Illinois, United States
  • Nationality: American
  • Occupation: Geneticist

HRobert Horvitz identified the genes that play a significant role in programmed cell death and amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS); he also discovered a new receptor that responds to serotonin. His pioneering research was performed on the nematode Caenorhabditis elegans.

C.elegans is a translucent worm about 1 millimeter long. Its genetic similarity to humans has made the nematode a focus of scientific study. In 1965, Dr. Sydney Brennan was the first to decide that the tiny creature was an ideal model for the study of the genetic code because it has far fewer genes than a human being, and yet its genetic structure is remarkably similar to a human's. Within two decades, biologists around the world were studying the worm and its 1090 cells. Indeed, work on sequencing its genome assisted molecular biologists studying the human genome. Moreover, medical biologists often collaborate with worm biologists, noting, for example, that the genes in C.elegans are similar to those defective genes in humans that cause Alzheimer's and colon cancer.

Horvitz's research on C.elegans led to an important discovery in 1991, when Horvitz identified the process of programmed cell death, or apoptosis. Understanding apoptosis is important because human diseases, including some cancers and neurodegenerative diseases, are related to the misregulation of apoptosis. Horvitz has identified the roles of several genes in the process of apoptosis in C.elegans, and some of these genes are similar to those in human apoptosis. In 2000, Horvitz and his research team announced that they had discovered a protein that signals the process of programmed cell death. The finding will possibly enable scientists to develop drugs to prevent cell death in different disabling conditions, such as Alzheimer's.

Leading a team of scientists in 1993, Horvitz identified the gene responsible for amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, or Lou Gehrig's disease (so-named after the New York Yankees ballplayer who died of ALS in 1941 at the age of 38). ALS is a fatal disorder of the nervous system characterized by increasing stiffness and total paralysis. Horvitz and his team found that the defective superoxide gene, which produces an enzyme called superoxide dismutase, is responsible for ALS. Because it is mutated, superoxide dismutase (SOD) in ALS patients does not deactivate free radicals, metabolic byproducts long linked to various diseases, including Alzheimer's and Parkinson's. Horvitz's discovery of SOD mutations in ALS victims is an important first step toward finding a cure for this and other similar conditions.

Horvitz announced in November 2000, in an article co-authored by Horvitz and two others, the discovery of a new type of fast receptor in C. elegans. The researchers found a gene that encodes an inhibitory receptor, while previously the only fast receptor known for serotonin was an excitatory one. The finding will spur further research to locate a similar inhibitory serotonin receptor in humans and thus, to develop a new pharmalogoical approach to treating the several conditions caused by neurotranmitter dysregulation, including depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia.

Horvitz completed his undergraduate work at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in 1968, and received his Master's degree (1972) and Ph.D. (1974) in biology from Harvard University. After postdoctoral research in Cambridge, England, he joined the faculty of MIT in 1978. The recipient of numerous awards and honors, Professor Horvitz is a member of the National Academy of Sciences and is currently Professor of Biology and Investigator, Howard Hughes Medical Institute, MIT.