University of Wisconsin–Madison

Space Crystal Prize

The University of Wisconsin–Madison Chemistry Department Molecular Structure Laboratory is proud to announce a collaborative project with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS), the sole manager of the International Space Station U.S. National Laboratory.

Students selected as overall and best quality winners of the 2017 University of Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest will be awarded an opportunity for their crystals to grow aboard the International Space Station U.S. National Lab through a partnership with the Center for the Advancement of Science in Space (CASIS) and their Space Station Explorers (SSE) education program.

Four people will qualify for this project:
1. The middle school/home schooled youths ages 11-13 winner of the “Best overall crystal” category;
2. The middle school/home schooled youths ages 11-13 winner of the “Best quality crystal” category;
3. The high school/home schooled youths ages 14-18 winner of the “Best overall crystal” category;
4. The high school/home schooled youths ages 14-18 winner of the “Best quality crystal” category.

Students will work with the Wisconsin Molecular Structure Laboratory and the CASIS SSE team to translate their optimum growth conditions into an experiment to be conducted on the ISS National Lab launching as early as SpaceX-14 in late 2017.  The students will be challenged to adapt their growth conditions to the flight hardware, prepare their experiment for launch, and compare the resulting microgravity-grown crystals with crystals grown on Earth!  In addition to the technical work, the Space Crystal Prize winner will be required to communicate their experiences through a blog, social media, and possibly the pre-launch press conference at Kennedy Space Center in Florida!  Activities will be highlighted on the SSE website as well.  Finally, after results are collected, the Space Crystal Prize winner will publish a short report in the CASIS Upward quarterly magazine.

Microgravity presents a unique environment to grow crystals – without gravity, buoyancy-driven convection and sedimentation are eliminated.  Under these unique conditions, crystal growth is controlled entirely by diffusion, resulting in larger, more ordered crystals that have fewer impurities than crystals grown on Earth.  Crystal growth on the ISS National Lab is used for development of new materials and also for crystallizing proteins for discovery of new drugs.  Pharmaceutical companies Merck and Eli Lilly & Co. along with groups like the Michael J. Fox Foundation are working on crystallizing critical proteins to advance their research.  More in-depth information on microgravity crystallization can be found on these two research portals hosted by CASIS – SpaceStationResearch.com and Macromolecular Crystal Growth (MMCG) Program.

Ilia Guzei, University of Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest Lead, iguzei@chem.wisc.edu

Diane Matthews, Space Crystal Lead Educator, dmatthews@iss-casis.org