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Virtual STEAM Summer Camp Goes “Crystal Crazy”

STEAM Stew Crystal Crazy image of sodium acetate crystals
Camper crystal experiment.

For the third consecutive summer, the Midland Section of the American Chemical Society and MSU St. Andrews have partnered to host a virtual STEAM Stew middle school summer camp for rising 6th through 8th-grade students.

Homemade monoammonium phosphate crystals.

This summer’s camp, held via Zoom July 11 through 15, hosted 17 students from the Greater Midland area, the Thumb, and Southeast Michigan for a week-long experience focused on the significance of crystals in our everyday lives. Expert scientists led more than a dozen hands-on sessions on topics from edible crystals to x-ray crystallography.

Camp organizer Dr. Regina Malczewski of Midland ACS kicked off the week with sessions that included focus on Michigan crystals, crystal art, and crystallized water. Students participated in several hands-on activities, including the production of monoammonium phosphate and borax  crystals under different conditions.

Camper GEODE art design.
Image of homemade crystal bracelet.
Camper gemstone bracelet.

Students learned about the relationship of gypsum to Plaster of Paris, and then made molds with the latter. A session on geodes was followed by geode art, and making bracelets from gemstones was part of a segment about lapidary and historical jewels. Liquid crystals were addressed, and students utilized them in thermometer applications.

Guest presenter Dr. Zhiua An, an associate clinical professor from New York University, hosted a session on crystals in the human body. Dr. An provided important and age-appropriate information about kidney stones, gallstones, and crystals in our inner ear. Students were fascinated to learn how crystals form in the human body and how some play essential roles while others can wreak havoc. Many students could relate as they had heard terms such and “vertigo” and “kidney stones” from close relatives who have suffered from these ailments.

After a discussion led by Dr. Jason Moser (MSU Department of Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience) that dealt with placebo effects, campers conducted a short study of their own at home involving crystals they were sent and subjects that were or were not told of their benefits. Results were then unpacked the following day.

Summer campers learn how scientists use x-ray crystallography to determine complex structures.

Also from the MSU Department of Chemistry, Dr. Richard Staples and Dr. James Geiger introduced students to x-ray crystallography and how scientists use that technique to determine a crystal’s atomic and molecular structure. The scientists provided many relevant examples, including how x-ray crystallography was used to characterize COVID-19.

Other activities related to Piezoelectric crystals and Sodium Acetate, or “Hot Ice.” The week concluded with a fun review where campers worked in groups to solve sequential puzzles related to the terms and concepts learned throughout the week—with winners and prizes!

“This camp was a challenge to prepare, but the enthusiasm and involvement of the attendees made it a real pleasure to conduct,” said Gina.

Dr. Regina Malczewski leading a session.

Camp attendance was 100% and daily feedback surveys provided many fun and positive comments.

“I just want to say thank you so much for offering this STEAM Camp. This helped stretch my kids minds, in a hands-on and fun way. Thank you for all of your time and preparation for this camp.” ~ Camper parent

I didn’t realize that things like hail were considered crystals.”

The rising of the ice castle”

I learned that snowflakes can be needles

I didn’t realize that amethyst was a Michigan crystal.

My favorite thing was making the tree crystals it was so fun!”

“Learning about the placebo effect!”

Super fun! I really liked how we split into groups and then we did the puzzles!”

The camp is conducted by the Midland Section of the American Chemical Society, Michigan State University, and MSU St. Andrews, with funding support from the Herbert H. and Grace A. Dow Foundationthe Rollin M. Gerstacker Foundationthe Charles J. Strosacker Foundation, the Dow Chemical Company Foundation, the Nexteer Steering the Future Fund and Hemlock Semi Conductor, LLC and MiSTEM Network.

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