SciFest was held at Illinois Valley oths_scifest_13Community College  (IVCC) on Friday, April 11.

SciFest is an annual celebration of science put together by IVCC professor Matthew Johll.  Instead of people gathering in a gym to watch a sports contest, at SciFest they came together for hands-on science experiments and demonstrations designed to help them understand how science work in everyday life. This year some 500 people attended.

The Ottawa Township High School ChemClub was there also, to lend a hand in presenting some of the activies.  We had about a dozen members of our club attend and present the following hands on demos:

johll1johll1Dr. Johll laid on the bed of nails and had the cinder block broken on his chest. Some IVCC students demonstrated a  flame tube (also known as a Rubens’ Tube) that showed the acoustic waves in the flames as a guitar was played, and the crushing of the 55 gallon drum by air pressure.

In addition any Cub Scout could earn their Science belt loop or Boy Scouts could work on a Chemistry merit badge at the event.

In the end, the event generated a lot of excitement and thinking about science, and again, unlike a sporting event, there were no losers and everyone won.

A Year for Crystals

CIC Crystal Growing Contest - Winning Alum Crystals 2011
CIC Crystal Growing Contest – Winning Alum Crystals 2011

Crystals are beautiful.  They have been prized and admired since the beginning of civilization.  They were assumed to have magical power because they seemed so magical themselves.In science, we have a whole different kind of awe for crystals.  The symmetry of atoms arranged in perfect snowflakes and the utter clarity of quartz and diamonds can be breathtaking, and reflects the basic nature of atomic structure.

So it is of little surprise to find that 2014 has been declared the International Year of Crystallograpy (IYCr).  This year marks the centennial of the discovery of X-ray crystallography and the 400th anniversary of Kepler’s observation of the symmetrical form of ice crystals. Among the goals of the IYCr are to increase public awareness of the science of crystallography and to promote education and research in crystallography and its links to other sciences.  One of their major activities is to sponsor an International Crystal Growing Contest.

The 2010 world’s record crystal

These sorts of contests have been popular in the past.  While the details of the IYCr contest have not been finalized, there are a number of other well-supported contests for 2014.   One well-established version is sponsored annually by the Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC).  Although it is only open to students in Canada, they have an excellent crystal growing handbook online, just in case your ACS ChemClub would like to try growing some crystals.  Of course, if your ChemClub is in Canada, you are all set!.

To celebrate the IYCr, the Molecular Structure Laboratory of the UW-Madison Chemistry Department has launched the Wisconsin Crystal Growing Competition to be held April-May 2014 among Wisconsin high school students.

The results of these competitions can be quite spectacular.  In Canada’s CIC National Crystal Growing contest, students routinely grow copper (II) sulfate crystals weighing over 50 grams.  The crystals could be grown much larger, but the CIC limits the competition to just five weeks.  In 2002 one of the crystals submitted was graded as ‘perfect’ with a score of 10.0 for the first time in the competition’s history.

The world’s record for the largest copper (II) sulfate crystal weighed 69.8 kg (153.88 lb) as of July 21, 2010. It was grown by students in Neustadt, Germany.  The Canadian newsletter Chem13News reported about a copper (II) sulfate crystal that was grown for several years, the last few months in a large garbage can.  When it reached a meter or so long, they finally ran out of room and the crystal was given a coating and built into a coffee table!

Stay tuned for news about the IYCr International Crystal Growing Contest, or if you qualify, join the contest in Canada  or Wisconsin.  Or, perhaps you can have your own competition between club members?  If you decide to grow some crystals, be sure to send us a report and pictures.

Auburndale ChemClub Celebrated Mole Day in Style!




Mole Day for Auburndale High School’s ChemClub in Auburndale, Florida, was filled with activities. Mole Day greeting cards were delivered to the school’s faculty and staff. Teachers were “moled” by students asking them to wear handmade Mole Day ribbons and stickers. A school-wide video segment about Mole Day aired in the morning, explaining the development of the mole concept and its importance in chemistry. Students also used a mole of aluminum potassium sulfate to grow alum crystals. Projects ranged from Mole Day flags to Mole Jeopardy games to Mole Day treats. In the midst of stoichiometry calculations, students can recall Mole Day and know that chemistry can be fun!