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National crystal-growing contest brings holiday sparkle to UB

The U.S. Crystal Growing Competition gives K-12 students and teachers five weeks to grow the best, brightest crystals out of powdered aluminum potassium sulfate. Winners get cash prizes. Photos: Douglas Levere

By CHARLOTTE HSU

Published December 9, 2016

The crystals began arriving at UB in late November, some from thousands of miles away.

They came in bubble wrap and padded envelopes. One was delivered in person. Another arrived in a Tiffany & Co. jewelry box, an iconic choice of packaging in robin’s egg blue. Most were shipped for $5 or $6, but others were sent overnight at a cost many times more.

These were the 2016 entries for the third annual U.S. Crystal Growing Competition.

The contest, run by Jason Benedict, UB assistant professor of chemistry, gives K-12 students and teachers five weeks to grow the best, brightest crystals out of powdered aluminum potassium sulfate. Winners get cash prizes and the event drew participants from 26 states this year.

On Dec. 6, five UB faculty and staff members convened in the Natural Sciences Complex to score 83 entries received. The judges included:

  • G. Ekin Atilla-Gokcumen, assistant professor of chemistry.
  • Timothy Cook, assistant professor of chemistry.
  • Andrea Markelz, professor of physics.
  • Travis Nelson, geologist and graduate instructional support technician in geology.
  • Luis Velarde, assistant professor of chemistry.

The panel members scrutinized crystals large and small, crystals milky and clear, crystals with sharp edges and crystals with rough, irregular shapes. The event brought a bit of holiday sparkle to campus, with the judges ooh’ing and aah’ing when they came across an entry that hit the mark.

“It’s so beautiful,” Markelz said while handling one particularly handsome specimen.

“It’s so clear,” Atilla-Gokcumen agreed.

“Beautiful facets,” Markelz concluded.

The contest winners, announced on Dec. 8, are:

  • Best Overall Crystal, K-8 ($200 prize): A student from the classroom of Adam Davidson at the Capitol Region Education Council Montessori Magnet School in Hartford, Connecticut.
  • Best Quality Crystal, K-8 ($200 prize): Abbey Calhoun and Meghan Leahy from St. Gilbert Catholic School in Grayslake, Illinois.
  • Best Overall Crystal, 9-12 ($200 prize): Tenzin Tsetan and Hans Hu from The Bronx High School of Science in New York City, New York.
  • Best Quality Crystal, 9-12 ($200 prize): Tim Pan and Neha Verma from the Illinois Mathematics and Science Academy in Aurora, Illinois.
  • Best Teacher’s Crystal ($100 prize): Jessica Weedon from The Bronx High School of Science.

The contest is sponsored by the American Crystallographic Association, the UB Department of Chemistry in the College of Arts and Sciences, the Western New York section of the American Chemical Society, Bruker AXS, The Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre, Krackeler Scientific Inc., the National Science Foundation, Ward’s Science, Jason Benedict and Jordan Cox.

READER COMMENT

The entries just keep getting better and better!!! Kids growing crystals... Awesome! Check out some of the participants on Twitter @USCrystalComp or #2016USCGC.

 

Jason Benedict