Sparking interest in STEM: the National Crystal Growing Competition in Canada

Michelle DaoJoy-Lynn KobtiV. Nicholas Vukotic

The Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC), a non-profit association of professionals in the chemical sciences, hosts outreach events every year across the country, such as the National Crystal Growing Competition. The goal of the competition is to promote chemistry, chemical engineering and chemical technology to the youth and to inspire the next generation of scientists and crystallographers through an exciting, educational and interactive competition. The National Crystal Growing competition has been active for over 30 years. This occurs every fall semester and is open to almost all students, including those who are home-schooled plus teaching staff. Individuals or teams can enter the competition whose aim is to grow the largest and highest-quality crystal possible. The task at hand can be challenging, as many factors affect the crystal growing process (i.e. temperature, vibrations etc.), which will likely result in students performing trial and error to succeed. This allows the students to develop critical problem-solving skills and to have basic laboratory experience by using various equipment and glassware. After a few weeks of waiting, the crystals are then submitted and evaluated on a regional, provincial and national level. Students and their teachers can win various prizes ranging from textbooks and swag to cash prizes, with the first prize historically being ~CAD$350 cash.

Last year, in 2022, many schools participated across Canada. The 2022 winners for best overall crystals were Rebecca Rouhana, Paulina Abou-Nehme and Zackary Hamwi from Collège Catholique Samuel-Genest (Ottawa, ON). The runner-ups for second and third place were Mathis Poirier-Larouche from École d’éducation internationale de Laval (Laval, QC) and Samuel Giguère from École secondaire Veilleux (St-Joseph-de-Beauce, QC), respectively. The 2022 winners for the highest-quality crystals were Tyson Bergen, Owenn Flaming and Kailee Tait from Leamington District Secondary School (Leamington, ON). The second place and third place winners were Amélia Barriault and Tina Scherrer from École Monseigneur-Labrie (Havre St-Pierre, QC) and Heather Tocher and Selina Liu from Fleetwood Park Secondary (Surrey, BC), respectively. 

[Fig. 1]The 2022 winning crystals of copper(II) sulfate pentahydrate.

The competition has resulted in various high-school and university news stories, which showcase the dedicated outreach efforts of the regional coordinators across Canada. These include highlights from schools such as Polyvalente des Abénaquis, the Conseil des écoles catholiques du Centre-Est, the University of Waterloo and the University of Windsor. A science department head at the Catholic Central High School in Windsor, ON, notes, “During COVID time, when there was limited availability of extracurricular activities, this competition gave some of my chem students a great opportunity to do something exciting and fun.” Windsor regional coordinator and professor from the University of Windsor, Nick Vukotic, says it was fun to be part of the event, and he looks forward to doing it again and highlights that “it is a great way to get students involved in chemistry and excited about science in general.”

Another high-school teacher from the Laval School of International Education also shared that the “competition is very educational for someone who loves science and intends to pursue this field further. Crystal growth is a long-term endeavor that requires precision, patience, and perseverance. Choosing the right "crystal seed," nurturing its growth, and regularly changing the growth solution – these tasks all take time and develop essential qualities for any aspiring scientist.” 

[Fig. 2]
Kailee Tait, Tyson Bergen and Owenn Flaming are 10th graders at Leamington District Secondary School who won the Best Quality award at Canada’s 2022 National Crystal Growing Competition (left image). Jessica Fisher, Damien Sharpley and Jasmine Vo are from Jacob Hespeler Secondary School and were part of a group of students who came in tenth at the National Crystal Growing Competition in 2012.

The CIC’s National Crystal Growing Competition is an engaging event that promotes chemistry to students and the public, sparking interest in STEM. By taking part in STEM outreach, we can play a pivotal role in shaping young minds, fostering curiosity and making a lasting impact. Participation and support are not only welcomed but actively encouraged. For more information about how to get involved in the Canadian competition, check out Readers are invited to immerse themselves in the exciting realm of STEM outreach, embracing opportunities such as the National Crystal Growing Competition. 

21 September 2023

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