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Photo Opp: It’s time to shine! National crystal-growing contest to be judged at UB

Travis Nelson, geologist and graduate instructional support technician in UB's geology department, inspects a crystal at last year's judging. He will return as a judge this year, along with other experts. Credit: Douglas Levere

The competition — now in its fourth year — was founded by a UB chemist

Release Date: December 8, 2017

“It’s a fun STEM activity that teaches (kids) a little about the chemistry of crystals.”
Jason Benedict, associate professor of chemistry
University at Buffalo
Additional photos from last year's judging:

Credit for all photos of 2016 judging above: Douglas Levere

BUFFALO, N.Y. — Bring on the holiday sparkle!

On Monday, Dec. 11, judges will gather at the University at Buffalo to inspect — and rate — over 150 crystals grown by K-12 students and teachers from across the country for the U.S. Crystal Growing Competition.

The contest was started in 2014 by Jason Benedict, associate professor of chemistry in UB's College of Arts and Sciences, who continues to organize the event.

Judges will be scoring crystals based on quality and size, with cash prizes up to $200 going to the biggest, best crystals. This year, for the first time, the competition also includes a “Coolest Crystal” category. Entries mailed to UB for consideration in this area include colored crystals grown in the presence of dye, and even a glow-in-the-dark crystal.

“Crystals are all around us,” Benedict says. “This contest gives kids a chance to grow and hold their own single crystal. It’s a fun STEM activity that teaches them a little about the chemistry of crystals, and what growing crystals is all about.”

WHAT: U.S. Crystal Growing Competition Judging.

WHEN: Monday, Dec. 11 at 10 a.m.

WHERE: Natural Sciences Complex, Room 306, on UB’s North Campus.

VISUALS: Eight judges, including UB faculty members and experts from other universities, will be scrutinizing over 150 crystals, some as large as a golf ball, placed in paper or plastic cups labeled with entry numbers.

The judges take their work seriously, but the atmosphere is casual, with plenty of fun conversation between experts.

This year’s judging will open at 10 a.m. with a brief talk by Benedict, who will provide guidance on how crystals should be rated.

See photos of last year’s judging:

ABOUT THE CRYSTALS: Contest participants grow crystals using aluminum potassium sulfate (alum), a nontoxic chemical used in water purification.

A good alum crystal is colorless, transparent and octahedral (meaning it has eight primary sides), but competition entries vary extensively in shape, clarity and size.

More than 160 teams representing about 4,000 participants — including entire K-12 classes — requested crystal-growing materials for this year’s contest. That’s up from about 90 teams in 2016 and 40 in 2014, the event’s inaugural year. Not all participants mailed in entries, but many who did submitted multiple crystals for judging, as the contest allows.

WHO: Benedict, who is not a judge, will be available to discuss the competition.

Judges will include:

  • Ekin Atilla-Gokcumen, assistant professor of chemistry, UB.
  • Lee Ayscue, PhD candidate in chemistry, Georgetown University
  • Sue Bratcher, instructional support technician in geology, UB.
  • Timothy Cook, assistant professor of chemistry, UB.
  • David Lacy, assistant professor of chemistry, UB.
  • Travis Nelson, geologist and graduate instructional support technician in geology, UB.
  • Michael Nippe, assistant professor of chemistry, Texas A&M University.
  • Luis Velarde, assistant professor of chemistry, UB.

SPONSORS:  The contest is sponsored by the American Crystallographic Association, the UB Department of Chemistry, the Western New York section of the American Chemical Society, Bruker, The Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre, Krackeler Scientific Inc., the National Science Foundation and Ward’s Science.

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