High schoolers Kristen Kretschmann and Sophia Kauffman High schoolers Kristen Kretschmann and Sophia Kauffman produced the Best Quality winner in the National Crystal Growing Competition.

Campus chemists give boost to high school crystal competitors

With scientific knowledge and plenty of patience you can grow a beautiful crystal from scratch. A team of young high school scientists from Leamington put their skills to the test and came out champions, with a little help from the University of Windsor.

Beating out competition from across Canada in the 2023 National Crystal Growing Competition, Kristen Kretschmann and Sophia Kauffman from Leamington District Secondary School placed first in the Best Quality category. A Leamington team won the same prize in 2022.

Chemistry professor Nick Vukotic and Faculty of Science experiential learning specialist Michelle Bondy worked with Windsor-Essex high schools to prepare students for the competition.

A committee from Dr. Vukotic’s research group, which grows crystals in the lab on a regular basis, judged the locally made crystals; his industry research partner Proto Manufacturing, a Windsor company that provides portable and laboratory x-ray diffraction systems and services, was one of competition’s sponsors.

“It is a pleasure for me to host this STEM centered crystal growing competition each year in our region,” says Vukotic, a researcher with UWindsor’s Advanced Material Centre of Research. “The crystals grown this year were particularly fantastic.”

For the second straight year, science and chemistry teacher Lauren Caza led the winning team from Leamington. She says the students thought it was fun to participate and as a teacher she sees the value in the experience.

“I find it interesting to see the different strategies they come up with and love watching them problem solve,” says Caza.

“Students learn so much more when they come across issues and have to try again, so it is a great lesson to learn early on in both science and life in general.”

Both last year and this year, says Caza, the winning crystals were grown by International Baccalaureate students.

“I think it is really validating to know our focus on fostering inquiry and reflecting on their learning is paying off.”

The first-place position earned the team a $250 cash prize.

Another local entry also did well: Khrystyna Syrotynska from Maria Sawicki’s class at Catholic Central High School placed ninth in the Overall Best Crystal category.

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