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Education

A crystal-growing contest and a Nobel Prize-winning inconvenience

by Craig Bettenhausen
December 19, 2016 | APPEARED IN VOLUME 94, ISSUE 49

 

Crystal contest

 

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Credit: Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo
Ready, set, grow: Benedict holds one of the contest entries.
09449-newscripts-crystal2.jpg
Credit: Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo
Ready, set, grow: Benedict holds one of the contest entries.

Crystals fill Jason Benedict’s office once a year. A chemistry professor at the University at Buffalo, Benedict runs the U.S. Crystal Growing Competition (bit.ly/2hwDBvl). This year, 83 entries came in from K–12 students and their teachers.

The contest began three years ago, after Benedict heard of a similar effort in Canada. Starting in mid-October, contestants have about a month to grow the biggest and highest-quality crystals they can and send them to Buffalo.

The raw materials are free to contestants thanks to sponsorships from several companies, nonprofits, and professional societies. This year and last, students used reagent-grade alum. Benedict says alum is a good choice because it is safe, it is one of the easiest crystals to grow, and the resulting crystals are shelf-stable. The sponsorships also allow Benedict to offer cash prizes of $50 to $200 for the winners.

The judges pick winners in two categories: overall, which takes both size and quality into account, and quality, which only requires that the crystal be 0.5 g or larger.

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Credit: Katherine Mirica
Dartmouth chemistry professor Katherine Mirica’s kids unbox the alum they used to grow their crystals.
Credit: Katherine Mirica
Dartmouth chemistry professor Katherine Mirica’s kids unbox the alum they used to grow their crystals.
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Credit: Jason Benedict/@USCrystalComp
Jessica Weedon of the Bronx High School of Science took top honors in the teacher age group with this 52-g beauty.
Credit: Jason Benedict/@USCrystalComp
Jessica Weedon of the Bronx High School of Science took top honors in the teacher age group with this 52-g beauty.

For 2016, the 9–12 grade overall prize winner was the team of Hans Hu and Tenzin Tsetan from the Bronx High School of Science. The 9–12 grade quality prize went to Tim Pan and Neha Verma of the Illinois Mathematics & Science Academy. The K–8 overall prize winner was a student from David Adamson’s class at CREC Montessori in Connecticut. The K–8 quality prize went to Abbey Calhoun and Meghan Leahy of Saint Gilbert School in Illinois.

“My favorite part is seeing the pictures and notes from kids having fun with crystals,” Benedict tells Newscripts. “When you pull a gigantic, golf-ball-sized crystal out of a jar, it’s remarkable. If I’m able to share that with kids ... that’s why I do it.”

Credit: Douglas Levere, University at Buffalo
Judge Travis Nelson inspects an entry.
Credit: Jason Benedict/@USCrystalComp
The winners in the 9–12 age group. Overall category, top row, left to right: 1st place, Hans Hu and Tenzin Tsetan from Bronx High School of Science; 2nd place, India, Ryan, Garrett, and Ron from Lyme-Old Lyme High School in Connecticut; 3rd place Daria, Guenette, Ava, and Cooper from Lockport High School in New York. Quality category 1st place at bottom: Tim Pan and Neha Verma from Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy.
Credit: Douglas Levere/University at Buffalo
The 2016 judges were University at Buffalo academics Andrea Markelz (front), Jason Benedict (standing), G. Ekin Atilla-Gokcumen, Travis Nelson, Timothy Cook (back row, left to right), and Luis Velarde (not shown).
Credit: Jason Benedict/@USCrystalComp
The winners in the K–8 age group: Overall category, top row, left to right: 1st place, a student in David Adamson’s class at CREC Montessori Magnet School in Connecticut; 2nd place, Eric Walstrom’s Class at Monte Vista Elementary in New Mexico; 3rd place, homeschoolers Caleb and Joshua of Springville, New York. Quality category 1st place at bottom: Abbey Calhoun and Meghan Leahy from Saint Gilbert School in Illinois.

Obscured office

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Credit: Ryan Cross/C&EN
Covered: The view from the other side of the banners is less impressive.
Credit: Ryan Cross/C&EN
Covered: The view from the other side of the banners is less impressive.

 

As a longtime reporter at C&EN, Stu Borman has earned a prime office on the sixth floor at the American Chemical Society’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. But not long after the Nobel Prize in Chemistry was announced in October, Borman found the view from his office dramatically altered when ACS covered the front of the building with gigantic banners congratulating the 2016 chemistry laureates—Ben L. Feringa, J. Fraser Stoddart, and Jean-Pierre Sauvage.

“No offense, but thanks to you, I can no longer see out of my office window very well,” Borman wrote to Stoddart in a friendly e-mail. “When I look out my window now, all I can see is ‘RAS’ and ‘DDA.’ ”

“Do forgive the intrusion of a part of my name upon your everyday life,” Stoddart replied. “Hopefully, it’s going to be a short-term experience. I guess you can feel yourself lucky that you are not sitting behind my right ear, for I fear I might not have always followed my mother’s advice to wash behind it!”

Craig Bettenhausen wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to newscripts@acs.org.

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Comments
Kirk Davis (January 12, 2017 9:06 AM)
I would love to have my students enter crystals in this contest next year. I am a chemistry teacher at Horizon High School in Thornton, CO and have been growing alum crystals with my students for years now. I just saw this in the last issue of Chemical and Engineering News. Could you email me some information so that I could get my next year students entered in the contest? Thank you for your time and help with this.
Kirk Davis

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