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The 2018 WI Crystal Growing Contest and 2017/8 WI Space Crystal Mission

The 2018 WI Crystal Growing Contest and 2017 WI Space Crystal Mission have been features in the news. Selected links include

2018 WI Crystal Growing Contest report by Ilia A. Guzei.

Wisconsin Space Crystal Mission“, article by Ilia A. Guzei in the International Union of Crystallography Newsletter (2018, volume 26, issue 2).

Young scientists and artists compete to send crystals into space

Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest-Wisconsin Space Crystal Mission (CASIS PCG 9) – 01.16.19. NASA web site.

New Student Experiments Reach ISS on SpaceX CRS-14

Student contest winners grow crystals in space. Upward, magazine of the International Space Station National Laboratory

Student interviewed by WKOW-ABS crew, video.

Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest-Wisconsin Space Crystal Mission

ISSRDC 2018:  STEM Education on the International Space Station;  Questions to the astronauts start at 14 minutes, WISCM presentation starts at 37 minutes:

Student Space Crystals Return to Earth. ISS NL web site.

Student Stars of STEM Day


Education: The Year in Review

Student essay: Kaitlyn Twesme on the ISS R&D Conference

Student Spotlight: From Wisconsin to Space — Twice! Space Station Explorers web site.

Student Spotlight: My Experiences with the Space Crystal Mission. Space Station Explorers web site.

Taking Crystallization from the Classroom to the Space Station

Sun Prairie teen grows crystals for space

Crew Packs Dragon With Science While Continuing More Space Research

Dragon Makes a Splash

Teacher testimonials from 2017

“We wanted to thank Dr. Ilia Guzei and the UW Chemistry Department for organizing the 2017 Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest. We are especially thankful that homeschooled students (and teachers) were invited to enter the competition. Having only worked with epsom salt and sugar crystals in the past, this was an amazing learning opportunity! This hands-on, multi-week experiment allowed for an immersion experience with rapid learning about the scientific process. The WICGC competition is a perfect STEAM approach, as it not only involves science but an art portion as well. As an added bonus, it is truly an unbelievable once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and a great honor to be able to work with CASIS on the Space Crystal mission! This is certainly the type of opportunity that can spark lifelong interest in a subject!” Payton and Cheryl Kelly-Van Domelen (Bright Minds Academy, Sun Prairie)

“Over the past couple months, Tyler and I, with the help of Mrs. Klysen, a chemistry teacher at Oshkosh North, took on the challenge of growing crystals. Through days of frustration and little luck, Mrs. Klysen encouraged us to persevere. Growing crystals takes lots of experimentation and technique, and maybe even a little luck from time to time. If we would’ve given up within the first few weeks, we wouldn’t have been able to share the beautiful crystal we grew with all of you today. Through this experience, we have learned that science is tedious and science can be difficult. I myself have always be interested in chemistry and research, but I had never realized how much time and effort really needs to put in to complete tasks at hand. I cannot imagine what it is like to be in the research field and potentially have months without answers or success. Perseverance is key to success and we know that now through our experiences growing crystals. For example, our spring break took place in the middle of April, during the contest. When presented with this issue, we were unsure what to do, as we didn’t want to leave the crystals for over a week by themselves. Finally, we decided that I would take them home with me. This seems like it should be an easy task, as I only live roughly two blocks from my high school, but it was surprisingly much harder than Tyler and I imagined. Those two blocks seemed forever long, driving five miles per hour down the roads, so as not to disturb the crystals. We definitely got some weird looks from other drivers, but it was completely worth it. Overall, this contest and experience was fantastic, and an amazing end to our senior year. I will live to tell about my experiences learning about and growing these crystals. Science is a field that is always changing and I am forever thankful this contest showed me what science is all about.” Kiley Klauer, student (Oshkosh North High School, Oshkosh)

“This crystal contest has really helped my students understand inquiry-based learning. The students are given a general problem to solve (growing a perfect crystal) with a great incentive. The idea that their crystal could potentially go to Madison and be judged by professionals means more to them than a letter grade. The level of intensity that I see from my second year growers is amazing. This year my chemistry II students were involved in the process and they were veterans. Although the Potassium Dihydrogen Phosphate was much harder to grow, they loved the challenge. Each student was fully vested in their own process and even helped critique other’s growing conditions. They carefully took into consideration solubility and nucleation when changing out solutions. If you came into my classroom you would have seen professional level chemists detailing out their work. When something went wrong, they learned from it. One of the most important lessons they learned was “The answer is not always sitting right in front our you…you have to earn it.” Last year we took our high school kids down to the local middle school to help them out as well. Professionally, I have learned so much from this contest. It really helps intertwine high school students with college professors. Next year I would love to start spreading out this contest to even more middle schools and high schools.” Jamie Lauer, Hartford Union HS, Hartford, WI

“My class really enjoyed campus and the presentation. The hands-on demonstrations was definitely their favorite part. I also think it was a good experience for them to compare their crystals to others and see that it was possible to grow larger crystals. They struggled as there was a bit of a heat wave in our school the last week of the competition where many of their crystals dissolved back into the solution. Thanks again for organizing it. Case High School has now participated in the crystal competition every year it has existed. The timing of the competition aligned perfectly with our unit on solutions. The students loved the idea that they could create something so beautiful in Chemistry. We had all of our students complete the project as part of the class. This year I was worried that we would not be able to participate. Our school district chose to go to block scheduling and I had to cut out some of the material from our curriculum. I chose to make the crystal competition an optional after school project and in my head predicted very low participation. I was very wrong. Approximately 70 students signed up to complete the project on their own time and came after school to make crystals. The classroom was packed and the principal came in and took a picture because he was amazed anyone would still be in the building at that time. This competition has definitely encouraged scientific inquiry, team building, advanced lab technique and critical thinking. I hope to have my students continue to participate in the competition as every year they have enjoyed it and made one more connection to science in their lives.” Kara Klaves, JI Case High School, Racine, WI

“Thank you once again for hosting this fabulous event. Brooklyn, Nick, and his family all were very impressed with the program and your efforts to bring recognition to your passion. What a great outreach to the state and what a great way to recognize and celebrate the U.W. program!” Dean Doersch ~ 8th grade Science, Shattuck Middle School

Some feedback from my students:

Advanced Chemistry

We had fun. Going to the geology museum and different demonstration really helped keep us engaged. It was really cool seeing different labs in the Chemistry department. It was amazing to see just how big the campus was. The tour guides were very knowledgeable and casual. It felt like the gem book was required to take and not optional. It was quite large as well.

Honors Chemistry

Got to see the concepts of our textbook in real life. The demonstrations from the presentations were pretty cool. Got to test hypotheses on how to grow the crystals. The tours were very enlightening. The process the graduate students are working on are more drawn out and precise than what we were working on. Our tour guide knew what he was talking about. It was cool to see the professional instruments and learn how they are used.

Some feedback from me:

This crystal growing contest has become a large part of our curriculum. Not only does it help students visualize saturated, unsaturated, and supersaturated solutions, but it helps them visualize the ionic crystal lattices. Students are able to TRULY take part in the scientific method. They are able to “take chances, make mistakes, and get messy.” We plan on using this competition in the future to help students extend their understanding of chemistry. Students that cannot take part in chemistry classes over and over will have the chance in future years to work on this crystal growing contest.

Feedback from my cooperating teacher:

“I plan to use this contest as part of my curriculum to help students to learn how to succeed and fail in the lab. I really appreciated the tours of the chemistry department. It really made the whole experience real for the students.” Erik Duhn, Adams Friendship High School Science Teacher, Friendship, WI

“Thank you again for all you work in putting on this competition. My students enjoyed the fun and the challenge of growing “the perfect” crystal, and it was very challenging this year. With the use of KDP for this year’s crystal, my students soon realized that they would have to re-evaluate their whole process, as KDP did not behave like previous substances. It turned out to be a good thing that KDP was different; there were many unknowns to test and overall I think the kids had fun discovering new growing methods and eventually finding success. The kind of discovery and experimentation that this contest requires is difficult to incorporate into the curriculum of a typical chemistry or geology class, but the experiences and the skills the kids develop from them are basic to science. I’m glad to have the WI Crystal Growing Contest as a way to offer these opportunities to students who are interested in science. The bonus of being involved in the Space Crystal Project is just icing on the cake.” Jim Prosser, Fond du Lac High School

Teacher testimonials from 2016

“Just wanted to send you a thank you for all you have done to offer a fantastic experience for the students, and of course us as teachers. I know it must take a lot of extra time and effort organizing and preparing for an event like this. It was a wonderful experience, and although I didn’t know exactly how our team was going to do, I’m so glad that Nikki got a chance to enter and place. She had a fabulous day and is already talking of taking the next step to the high school contest. Love the addition of the art category. I think things are really going to get interesting next year.” Dean Doersch, Shattuck Middle School, Neenah, WI.

“The crystal growing contest was a wonderful experience for the kids! They were all very excited to “check” the progress of their creations! Overall, the day was fantastic and I will FOR SURE grow crystals for the competition again! WHAT A GREAT EXPERIENCE!” Cindy Smits, Central Middle School, Hartford, WI.

“As part of the homeschool community we loved being part of the Crystal Growing Competition. Sometimes it is hard to find events like this that are open to us. My children learned so much from the experience. Not only did they learn to grow crystals but it was a lesson in perseverance and time management. Thank you so much for allowing our participation. My children plan on down by more research on crystals before next year’s competition. [The award ceremony day] was wonderful; the children and I really enjoyed everything.” Nicole John, mother of a home-schooled winner, Kenosha, WI.

“Thank you again Dr. Guzei for not only organizing but continuing to support this amazing educational experience. While I have seen so much student enthusiasm and intellectual growth for this activity, I was not prepared for the impact this has for teachers. Rarely do science teachers get the opportunity to perfect their craft from an expert in the science field. Teaching is an art and a science that always gets better with time and the right mentors. Opening up the competition for the middle schools helped me grow as an educator because I was so excited about this contest that I actively promoted it to our local feeder schools. Through this, I was able to come in to their 7th grade classes and teach them about the process and help them start their crystals. When they were done growing, we brought our own high school students down to help teach the crystallization process in small groups. I don’t think I have ever seen a more engaged and excited classroom. One 7th grader asked the high school students “how did you get so smart in science so fast?” Another 7th grade boy commented “I’m using my science words today. “Ultimately students learned how to be part of a team, how much fun failure can be and what an incredible resource a peer can be. My participation in this contest has me seeking out new relationships and educational experiences with teachers at the middle school and university levels. I was able to collaborate with Cindy Smits (7th grade teacher at Central) who is just as passionate about science as I am. You have created much more than a crystal contest. Madison has really nailed it when it comes to igniting the passion in science teachers.” Jamie Lauer, Hartford Union High School, Hartford, WI.

“I not only bring students to the awards ceremony, that grew the crystal, I bring students that I feel might want to grow a crystal next year. So the day after the awards ceremony, I asked one of my students I feel might grow a crystal next year what she thought. She said she already order material to learn how to grow a crystal this summer. What a statement of the enthusiasm that was instilled. Nice job.” Brian Ruplinger, Waupaca High School, Waupaca, WI.

“The last 3 years my independent research chemistry students enter the contest and each year the students have enjoyed the challenge to research in order to make the best crystal. The students who have been able to go to the open house were amazed at the equipment in the crystal lab and the willingness of the staff to share their expertise with the students. Thank you for giving a small district like Montello the opportunity to be involved in the contest.” Janene Perkins, Montello High School, Montello, WI.

“My students really enjoyed creating the crystals, and also had a wonderful experience on campus as well. They are already asking if we can do it again next year! I think it was beneficial to have included the middle school students this year because some of them are already talking about going to college, and the possibility of Madison. Thank you so much for the amazing opportunity that was available for my students”. Samantha Eckert, St. Joseph Catholic School, Stratford, WI.

“First, let me say how much my students and I appreciate all you do to organize the Crystal Growing competition. Our budding young chemists spent many hours planning and testing techniques, and many afternoons discussing how to deal with problems that arose. We ended up trying a few new things this year, based on our shortcomings from last year, and they paid off.
Kevin was excited to be the first place winner and is already talking about next year and what we could do differently. I think he’ll be doing his own experiments this summer so he can hit the ground running when next year’s contest is announced.
We enjoyed the tour given of the Chemistry Dept. and the information presented prior to the ceremony. …What was very apparent from all the guides and presenters was their enthusiasm, so don’t dial that back!
We are looking forward to participating next year.” Jim Prosser, Fond du Lac High School, Fond du Lac, WI.

“As a high school teacher, I have participated in the crystal growing contest since the onset. After teaching for 22 years and still immensely enjoying this experience, the contest selfishly brought a whole new level of excitement to my commute to school every day. Soundly rather immature, I couldn’t wait to check on my “babies” to look for signs of progress. For the past two years, I would encourage my new prep assistant to visit the contest website to get an overview of the task before beginning the adventure. As I would be busy with the duties of teaching, I would quietly notice frequent visits of my prep assistants to the stockroom knowing they were checking on the crystal growing status. In addition, the superintendent of our rather large district is “dialed” in with the contest details and has been given more than one tour of our “crystal farm.” This contest, in my opinion, has brought a whole new level to the meaning of science. I am hoping to expand this contest to more members of our chemistry club next year to see if we can generate more excitement. The award ceremony was fabulous and the display of crystals with guest speakers and tours is exceptional. I would like to personally thank you for this experience and all of your dedication to the science education to Wisconsin students. You, along with your colleagues and associates, are making a difference.” Michelle Klysen, Oshkosh North High School.

“We had all of our honors Chemistry students grow crystals in teams. This is the third year we have participated in the crystal competition through UW–Madison. We have loved the experience every year. The competition is well organized and the organizers are definitely enthusiastic about their work. I was also amazed at the discussions that growing crystals stimulated. About a week after the students began growing crystals I heard them arguing about the saturation point of copper (II) sulfate and suddenly they were trying to find solubility curves to prove their point. This type of hands on learning stimulates students interest in Chemistry and they are likely not to forget their experiences.” Kara Klaves, JI Case High School, Racine, WI.

“The Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest was an amazing opportunity for students. I was excited that the contest was extended to the middle school this year. We used the contest as an extra curricular opportunity. A wide range of students participated and it was a fun experience for all. It linked nicely to many things we learn about in class such as molecular structure and good laboratory technique. Thank you to everyone who made this happen.” Lisa Bowler, John Long MS, Grafton.

“First of all, let me thank all individuals and sponsors for their tireless support of this great program. It really meant a lot to my students to have outside groups and individuals interested in their crystal growing activity.
Second, my students took to this activity like bears to honey (especially Middle School Students). We did some research about how to make a “saturated solution” to start our “seed crystal” and how to best maintain our solution conditions to enable our original seed crystal to continue to grow and take shape. Not that we did not have some setbacks: some middle school groups could not help but disturb their crystal every day in spite of my warnings and disaster struck: THEIR CRYSTAL BROKE! We then talked about following directions and the expression,”If it ain`t broke, don`t fix it”.
Third, thank you and all parties involved in putting together the awards presentation on May 20th. My students enjoyed it immensely. For most of them, seeing the glassblowing/fabrication was a major highlight.” Kevin Hardie, MS&HS Science, Blair-Taylor Schools.

Teacher testimonials from 2015

“..This is way cooler than I thought… Thank you so much again for organizing this event. I think the crystal growing competition is a good opportunity to introduce students to work in the laboratory. Aqueous solutions of copper sulfate are pretty safe to work with and the crystallization conditions allow enough permutations to provide a challenge to the students to find appropriate conditions for growing seed crystals and competition crystals. The students were intrigued by the intense color of the solution alone and literally blown away by the beauty and size of the crystals. We luckily had enough material that they even ventured into growing little crystal gardens. The students had fun, learned to work accurately and cleanly and follow instructions. They learned from their mistakes making adjustments to improve results. They learned to relate results to crystallization conditions and modify conditions to improve results. My favorite quote: “This is way cooler than I thought!” All of them were looking forward going into the 2016 competition with so much more experience”. Dr. Michael Ruf, coach of a student team, Verona, Wisconsin.

“I’d also like to thank you for again hosting the Crystal Growing Competition. I also organize a major academic competition and I know how time-consuming it can be, but it is also very rewarding. I want you to know that all of my students gave this competition two thumbs up and they very much enjoyed their visit to UW. Several students commented that they would have liked to stay overnight and take more tours. I am hoping that this competition continues to be an annual event and you continue to have the awards before summer as it easier to get the kids there.” Tim Cox, Berlin High School Chemistry, Wisconsin.

“At DC Everest High School, I run the crystal growing competition as an afterschool enrichment activity. This year is the second year we have participated in your contest. The students and I think it is great. Students love the intra-school competition. The students that participate are highly motivated students, and love a challenge. Thank you for running this statewide competition. It is a great learning activity for our students. The documentation you provided for instructions for the contest are very clear and user friendly. I do not have any suggestions for changes other than to please include us again. Thank you for providing us with this opportunity”. Ann Wiernik Chemistry Teacher DC Everest Senior High School

“I just wanted to tell you that I had a lot of fun doing the Crystal Growing Contest. It was a highly rewarding experience because I was able to create my own experiment within the experiment. It was hands-on and watching the crystals grow under different conditions was very interesting. In my opinion, any chance to learn and have fun while doing one is an opportunity that should not be passed up. Thank you for organizing this”. Abby Schuett, high school student from Fond du Lac, Wisconsin

Teacher testimonials from 2014

In the article by Guzei I.A. (Celebrating the International Year of Crystallography with a Wisconsin High School Crystal Growing Competition) several science teacher share their impressions of the 2014 WI Crystal Growing Contest. Here is an exerpt from the article:

The student response to the invitation to participate in the contest was quite enthusiastic. The teachers recognized the complementary nature of the contest to their courses and used the event to enhance student learning about compound solubility and concentration, purification, crystallization conditions, good laboratory practices, and discipline. The teachers’ comments speak for themselves:

“The activity was a great way to reinforce our solution unit in chemistry. Students were able to see the effects of an unsaturated solution, saturated solution and supersaturated solution. Students adopted the advanced vocabulary and even took it upon themselves to research what a “perfect crystal” might look like. It was a great cross-curriculum assignment as we investigated the types of crystals produced using the earth science teacher as our resource. Before the start of class each day, students would attend to their crystals and would even help others with the growing process. They learned quickly what worked well and also learned how to fail. This activity brought out “true learning” in the classroom. I did not assign a grade to this assignment (but we did have a friendly competition) and these students owned the project as though it was a final exam grade. Students who are not always engaged in class quickly excelled with this project offering their own special skillset to their groups. Many students chose to name their crystals: Jessie White, Dusty, Adidas, DuWayne the Rock Crystal, DuWayne II, and Lapis Lazuli (blue block from Minecraft game.) As the June 1st deadline approached the biggest question was “Will my crystal go to Madison?” I wanted to show off all of the crystals so I am creating a display case with a few art students to have in my classroom. Next year I am going to incorporate this contest again in my own classroom”. Jamie Lauer, chemistry teacher, Hartford Union High School, Hartford, WI

“I just wanted to thank you for the opportunity to enter my students into the crystal growing contest. It is so fun to see them excited about chemistry! In fact, I have had kids coming in after school and in between classes to check on their crystals. I’m pretty sure I have not had this many kids in my room on a Friday after school in a long time”. Lynn Dehnel, science teacher, Ashwaubenon High School, Ashwaubenon, WI

“We had a unique group of kids this year who really enjoyed the project. They, too, arrived early or checked in between classes to monitor the process. Some also named their crystals. A young lady wanted to make a necklace out of her crystal – it looked so attractive to her. Unfortunately, I did not capture photos of any of this but their engagement levels in this far exceeded my expectations. Because of their interest, we were able to examine X-ray crystallography (I had some slides for projection demos from Madison several years ago), the Bragg equation, colligative properties and other topics that we would not do at such depth in other years.” Ron Cerveny, science teacher, Flambeau High School, Tony, WI

“It was a great opportunity for both of my girls that worked on the crystals. They learned how to work together and share the responsibility of lab work because they worked on the same crystals consecutive hours of the day. They had to leave detailed instructions for each other and understood the importance of meticulous records. They also had to discuss variations in procedures to improve the crystals, making this realistic research work. They enjoyed this experience very much”. Lynn Ponto, science teacher, Weyauwega-Fremont High School, Weyauwega, WI

Many students named their teams creatively: for example, “In the woods”, “Anti-derivatives”, “Hero batman”, Qual, “Heisenberg’s crystal”, and “The shockers” (probably not the best name for a crystal growing experiment).”

Scholarly articles

The Wisconsin Crystal Growing Contest has been featured on the cover of the Journal of Chemical Education and the featured article (Guzei I.A. “Celebrating the International Year of Crystallography with a Wisconsin High School Crystal Growing Competition“) described the scientific impact the contest made at the participating schools – check out the teachers’ testimonials below!