Statewide contest challenges Wisconsin students to grow crystals

February 15, 2016 By David Tenenbaum

The 3rd annual Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest is now enrolling middle school, high school and home schooled students for a statewide contest that will start March 1.

A copper sulfate ("bluestone") crystal from the 2014 Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest.

A copper sulfate (“bluestone”) crystal from the 2014 Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest. Photo: Ilia A. Guzei

Participants will work individually or in small teams to grow crystals from two common, safe materials, says organizer Ilia Guzei, director of the X-ray crystallography lab at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. X-ray crystallography is a fundamental technique for determining chemical structure.

About 550 students from 25 schools around Wisconsin took part in the 2015 competition. Guzei expects that number to grow this year with the inclusion of middle schoolers. Chemists see crystal growing as part art and part science, and the criteria for prizes include crystal size, shape and quality.

2014 participants from Nekoosa (Wisconsin) High School, wearing their Crystal Growing Contest t-shirts.

2014 participants from Nekoosa (Wisconsin) High School, wearing their Crystal Growing Contest t-shirts. Photo: Pamela Walker

Participants will be invited to an awards ceremony at UW–Madison on May 20 featuring talks by professors and tours of research labs, including the crystallography laboratory.

“We’re trying to make the campus more accessible as a destination for the best and brightest students in our state,” Guzei says.

The contest benefits from volunteer help and financial assistance from the chemistry department. Other sponsors include chemical companies and crystallographer associations.

Learn more and sign up online.