2015 Wisconsin Crystal Growing Competition

Figure 1. Judges evaluate crystals and artwork submissions.

The 2nd crystal-growing competition among Wisconsin high school students aged 14-18 has been successfully conducted. The contest, which perfectly aligns with the Wisconsin Idea, inspired participation of over 550 students and teachers from 25 schools across the state and one school from Moscow, Russia. Students from seven WI schools received prizes at an award ceremony held on May 22, 2015 at the Chemistry Building, UW-Madison.

To promote the contest we set up a booth at the Wisconsin Society of Science Teachers Conference in March 2015 to inform the public about the crystal growing contest, crystallography, and education at the UW-Madison Chemistry Department. A web site provided the information necessary to register for the competition, to learn about crystals, and to learn the details of the crystal growing procedure. There were links to the related national and international events.

The main goal of the contest was to grow large blue crystals of cupric sulfate pentahydrate. The crystals were evaluated for size and quality by a committee comprised of six PhD chemists and one chemistry graduate student. The high school students submitted 44 crystals that had won their local contests. New for this year was a contest-inspired art competition for which 11 submissions of drawings and mixed media were sent in. All winners were recognized with certificates, books, T-shirts, and cash prizes. The best crystals and drawings are on permanent display in the Chemistry Department.

Additional contest goals were to motivate students to learn about solution chemistry, compound solubility, purification, crystallization, and optical microscopy. The students adopted an advanced vocabulary and learned to work in teams, keep detailed records of their progress, communicate with their teammates, and follow good laboratory practices.

Figure 2. A map showing the locations of participating schools in Wisconsin. Ten schools out of 25 participated in the contest for the second time.

All participants of this important scientific outreach activity were invited to tour the UW-Madison campus, Chemistry Department, and the Molecular Structure Laboratory. They were also invited to the award ceremony that featured several high-profile speakers. Assistant chair Prof. Mark Ediger described the significant role of the department on campus. Prof. John Moore presented a lecture with experiment demonstrations to illustrate what it is like to be an undergraduate student in this department. A guest speaker from University of North Carolina at Charlotte, Professor Dan Rabinovich, spoke about crystals and crystallography on postage stamps. Dr Paula Piccoli described the contest and its significance and then Dr Ilia Guzei awarded the prizes. Over 70 students, teachers, and parents attended the award ceremony.

Figure 3. Contest winners who attended the award ceremony: six students and their teacher. The organizer is on the right.


The Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest is now an annual event. On, Wisconsin!

Ilia Guzei, PhD
Director, Molecular Structure Laboratory
Chemistry Department
University of Wisconsin-Madison