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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 borax 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 camp focused on the significance of crystals in our everyday lives. Expert scientists lead more than sixteen hands-on sessions on topics from edible crystals to x-ray crystallography.

Camp organizer Dr. Regina Malczewski of the Midland ACS kicked off the week with sessions on edible crystals, Michigan crystals, crystal art, and water crystals. Students participated in several hands-on experiments, combining monoammonium phosphate and borax to grow their own crystals. Students also enjoyed demonstrations on liquid crystals, which exposed students to new terms like orthorhombic and the difference between ice, frost, and hail.

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

During sessions on Michigan crystals and crystal art, students enjoyed learning what types of crystals are found in Michigan and made plaster of Paris molds, gemstone bracelets, and GEODE art. These hands-on projects helped students understand terms like hematite, calcite, and the difference between gypsum and plaster of Paris.

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 and others can wreak havoc. Many students could relate as they had heard terms such ad “vertigo” and “kidney stones” from close relatives who have suffered from these ailments.

Dr. Jason Mosher from the MSU Department of Cognition and Cognitive Neuroscience, lead a session on healing crystals. Campers learned concepts like the placebo effect, non-deceptive placebo effect, and ethics of placebos. They even participated in a study by sharing healing crystals with friends and family and recording the impact of the crystals’ on each individual.

Summer campers learn how scientists use x-ray crystallography.

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

Other topics included a session on Piezoelectric crystals and Sodium Acetate crystals, or “Hot Ice.” The week concluded with a fun puzzle session, where campers worked in groups to solve puzzles related to the terms and concepts learned throughout the week.

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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