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K-12 Education

Chemistry In Pictures

Chemistry in Pictures: Crystals from outer space

by Manny Morone
March 3, 2020


The edges of blue crystals of copper sulfate pentahydrate that was grown on the International Space Station
Credit: Matthew Hautzinger

Yes, these crystals were formed in space on the International Space Station, but despite the crystals’ epic and extraordinary origin, the astronauts aboard the ISS who worked on the experiment got a hand from a bunch of young amateur scientists from Wisconsin. In 2017, the organizers of the Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest, which accepts entries from students age 11 to 18, launched a collaboration with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), and after having their crystals judged by professional chemists, six of the contest winners were invited to work with CASIS on this ISS experiment. The students had to optimize their ground laboratory conditions for spaceflight conditions and got to visit Cape Canaveral to prepare the solutions that ultimately yielded crystals of copper sulfate pentahydrate and potassium diphosphate. Some of the copper sulfate pentahydrate crystals are now at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, which is where this image was taken, and are being compared with crystals grown on terra firma.

Credit: Matthew Hautzinger. Follow him Twitter (@wavy_rays) and Instagram (@hautzii).

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