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From crystal-growing competitions worldwide to a worldwide crystal-growing competition

[Borax] Borax,  Na2B4O7.10H2O
[Monopotassium phosphate] Monopotassium phosphate (KDP), KH2PO4
[Ammonium magnesium sulphate] Ammonium magnesium sulphate, (NH4)2Mg(SO4)2.6H2O
[Copper sulphate] Copper(II) sulphate, CuSO4.5H2O
[K Na tartrate] Potassium sodium tartrate, KNaC4H4O6.4H2O
[Ammonium iron sulphate] Ammonium iron(II) sulphate, (NH4)2Fe(SO4)2.6H2O
[Alum] Alum, KAl(SO4)2.12H2O

In many countries such as Australia, Belgium, Canada, England, France, Singapore and Spain, regional or national crystal growing competitions are organized, and the same is true in many schools on a more local basis. The local guidelines for these competitions can differ slightly, but in general pupils have to grow their own single crystals in the classroom in a fixed period. Instructions are available on the website of the competition and in most cases a limited amount of starting material is provided to the schools. Each class is encouraged to send their best single crystals to the local coordinator who is always available to answer additional questions. Submitted crystals are judged on the weight and the quality of the crystal, with prizes for different age categories, best schools and best crystal quality. In Spain and Singapore, a scientific congress is organized where participants present posters and crystal models. Popular starting materials for growing single crystals include alum (aluminium potassium sulphate dodecahydrate), copper(II) sulphate pentahydrate, borax (sodium tetraborate decahydrate), ammonium iron(II) sulphate hexahydrate, potassium dihydrogen phosphate and ammonium magnesium sulphate hexahydrate.

With the celebrations of the IYCr2014 in mind, the lead partners IUCr and UNESCO are planning a worldwide crystal-growing competition in 2014 to illustrate that science – and especially crystallography – is fun! This practical competition will be accompanied by educational material to explain the importance and basic concepts of crystals and crystal growth. This worldwide competition will be organized at different levels. In countries that already hold competitions, it is logical that these challenges should continue during IYCr2014 using their specific guidelines. In addition, a competition for the best video report and/or essay will be organized on a worldwide basis. Of course it is also important to motivate crystallographers in countries where such competitions are not yet organized to set up one in the context of IYCr2014. Support will be given to future local organizers who wish to start a regional or national competition by providing mentoring, guides and a script. The UNESCO Associated Schools Project Network will help to implement the programme, in particular in those countries where a crystallographic community is lacking or lab facilities are poor. Starter kits and educational material, distributed through the UNESCO network, will hopefully create a multiplier effect in the coming years.

More information on the different levels of a worldwide crystal growing competition will soon be announced on a dedicated part of the IYCr2014 website. Keep an eye on it and be sure that your country also participates in this interesting challenge! If you have any questions, please send an email to

The photographs on the right-hand side illustrate the winning crystals from the Belgian Crystal Growing Competition, showing different possible starting materials.

Luc Van Meervelt