2022 US Crystal Growing Competition

Jason Benedict

"We really appreciate the contest and prizes. My students love growing crystals, some of them even got kits so that they can grow crystals at home. Thanks so much." – Haley Metcalf, 6th grade Science Teacher at Franklin Park Middle School in Salem, IL

2022 was another great year for the US Crystal Growing Competition (USCGC, Fig. 1)! Once again, thousands of kids, parents and educators from all over the country participated in the #2022USCGC! None of this would be possible without the tremendous efforts of the USCGC Crystallites: Fernando Uribe-Romo (University of Central Florida, UCF), Michael Nippe (Texas A&M University, TAMU), Karah Knope (Georgetown University, GU), Tasha Benedict (University at Buffalo, UB) and Jeffery Rack (University of New Mexico, UNM)! A HUGE thank you to all of their wonderful students, and mine too who helped make the #2022USCGC happen!

[Fig. 1]
Figure 1. Hand of Travis Nelson examining a submission during judging of the 2022 USCGC. Photo credit: University at Buffalo | Meredith Forrest Kulwicki.

The 2022 USCGC began during National Chemistry Week in mid-October and concluded in early December. Hundreds of kilograms of alum went out, and over 160 crystals were sent to UB for judging – a new record (Fig. 2)!!! For an awesome photo-essay of the judging, check out https://ubuffalo.exposure.co/the-challenge-of-crystal-growing.

[Fig. 2]
Figure 2. Entries from the 2022 USCGC on display in the Department of Chemistry at the University at Buffalo. Photo credit: Jason Benedict.

There was an exciting addition to the line up of 2022 judges this year! Two local educators and USCGC participants joined the panel: Dana Pepe (Olmstead School #64) and Jeff Yap (Williamsville South High School). It was so fun and rewarding to help get educators more involved in the contest! As judges, they had the opportunity to see all of the submissions firsthand and take new ideas and the experience back to their classrooms!

Holding the judging back at UB (Fig. 3) meant a return for many veteran judges including Andrea Markelz (UB, Physics), David Lacy (UB, Chemistry), Travis Nelson (UB, Geology), Luis Velarde (UB, Chemistry) and Jeff Rack (UNM, Chemistry). But we were certainly happy to welcome many new judges too: Luis De Jesus-Baez (UB, Chemistry), Andrew Murkin (UB, Chemistry). And lastly, we were so glad that Jacob Furst (UCF), a graduate student in the lab of Fernando Uribe-Romo, made the trip to judge!

[Fig. 3]
Figure 3. Lots of judges hard at work scoring the entries for the 2022 USCGC. Photo credit: Meredith Forrest Kulwicki.

Thanks so much again. Students love participating in this kind of active hands-on learning and it lets me teach them not only about the crystallization process, but also about science concepts like controlling variables, solubility, impurities, chemical sedimentary rocks and cave formations.” – Haley Metcalf, educator at Franklin Park Middle School

Winners once again came from across the country! For grades K-8, the Derby North Middle School Science Club with students in grades 6–8 led by Kimberly Norden won both 1st place overall (US$200), and 1st place highest quality crystal (US$100)! Zacia Emniser, Hunter Williams, Shanelle Pruden and Teagan Lobek, a team of 6th graders from Mrs Haley Metcalf’s class at Franklin Park Middle School (Salem, IL), won 2nd place Overall (US$100, Fig. 4). And Charles Rambo, a 5th grader from the Geauga Engineering and Robotics 4-H club in Novelty, OH, took home 3rd place Overall (US$50). 

[Fig. 4]
Figure 4. Hunter and Zacia (back) and Teagan and Shanelle (front) winners of 2nd place Overall for grades K-8 from Franklin Park Middle School (Salem, IL). Photo credit: Haley Metcalf.

The kids absolutely love this contest. Every year. Every kid. Thank you so much for all the time and energy you put into it. It is so fun to do with them.” – Lucy Walter, educator at Lyme/Old Lyme High School

In the 9–12 grade division we also had another dual category winner from the same school: Susan Schmidt’s class at Somerville High School in Somerville, MA!! 1st prize Overall (US$200) went to a team of 10th graders Jameer Perez Sinclair, Camden Pereira and Brian Rodriguez (US$200, Fig. 5) and 1st place Highest Quality crystal (US$100) went to Sebestian Ungar. Chase Calderon, Eli Goldberg and Andrew (Quinn) Sprankle, 10th graders from Lucy Walter’s class at Lyme/Old Lyme High School in Old Lyme, CT, won 2nd place Overall (US$100, Fig. 6). Lucas Watts, Daniel Armendariz-Huang and Ayomi Odetoyinbo, 10th and 11th graders from Jim Burdick’s class at HC Williams High School in Canton, NY, won 3rd place Overall (US$50, Fig. 7).

[Fig. 5]
Figure 5. (Left to right) Camden, Jameer and Brian, and their teacher Susan Schmidt, winners of 1st place Overall for grades 9–12 from Somerville High School (Somerville, MA).
[Fig. 6]
Figure 6. (Left to right) Eli, Quinn and Chase, winners of 2nd place Overall for grades 9–12, from Lyme/Old Lyme High School (Old Lyme, CT). Photo credit: Lucy Walter.
[Fig. 7]
Figure 7. (Left to right) Daniel, Ayomi and Lucas, winners of 3rd place Overall for grades 9–12 from HC Williams High School (Canton, NY). Photo credit: Jim Burdick.

Every year, my students say that growing crystals was one of their favorite activities of the year. I connect it to ionic bonding and how the arrangement of ions affects the properties and shape of the macroscopic crystal. Thanks for running this contest every year – my students are thrilled to have won 1st place. You have helped spark interest in chemistry, and I hope more and more schools participate each year!” – Susan Schmidt, educator at Somerville High School in Somerville, MA

The contest gives me a bit of a mission to focus on in the fall before each week starts getting interrupted with delays and snow days. Very excited we finally cracked the top 3!” – Jim Burdick, educator at HC Williams High School in Canton, NY

The ‘Best Teacher Crystal’ was won by Karen Metcalf from Cornerstone Learning Community in Tallahassee, FL. Coolest Crystal? This year there were 40 submissions to this category! With so many submissions and growth in this category, we may need more than ‘coolest’! Once again, a “super dark purple – nearly black crystal” won!!!! It was sent in by Kate Bryson and Gavin Michaels, 8th graders from Mrs Lisa Matejka’s class at Trinity Lutheran School in Bloomington, IL. I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. I never tire of seeing what happens when kids and their imaginations combine with crystals (Fig. 8)!!!

[Fig. 8]
Figure 8. Top ten “Coolest Crystals” for 2022 viewed in white light (upper) and black light (lower). (1) “super dark purple – nearly black crystal” sent in by Kate and Gavin from Mrs Lisa Matejka’s class at Trinity Lutheran School in Bloomington, IL. Photo credit: Jason Benedict.

It just grew this way. I have never done this before, and it is awesome!” – Ke’asia Thompson from Margaret Beeks Elementary (Blacksburg, VA) assisted by Elizabeth Larsen (Margaret Beeks) and Amanda Morris (Virginia Tech)

All of the winners were once again announced Academy Award Style on TikTok:

K-8: https://www.tiktok.com/@uscrystalcomp/video/7192622823288868142

9–12: https://www.tiktok.com/@uscrystalcomp/video/7192626792765607211

Teacher: https://www.tiktok.com/@uscrystalcomp/video/7192627430119591211

Coolest: https://www.tiktok.com/@uscrystalcomp/video/7192643357506555179

Please check out all the winners and some great participant posts on the contest website and at #2022USCGC on Twitter! 

The USCGC helps raise public awareness of the importance of crystal-based research and the organizations, including the ACA, that promote and support these important activities. The USCGC gratefully acknowledges the support of our sponsors: ACA, National Science Foundation, Ward’s Scientific/VWR, Pritzker School of Engineering at the University of Chicago, Bruker AXS, Rigaku, Krackeler Scientific, Cambridge Crystallographic Data Centre, the Western New York section of the American Chemical Society, the Departments of Chemistry of UB, GW, UCF, UNM and TAMU. Please consider making a tax-free donation to the 2023 contest! For more information, please visit the USCGC website or e-mail Jason Benedict at jbb6@buffalo.edu


This article was first published in ACA Reflexions, the Newsletter of the American Crystallographic Association.

3 October 2023

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The permanent URL for this article is https://www.iucr.org/news/newsletter/volume-31/number-3/2022-us-crystal-growing-competition