Camper / TA Grows Crystals

By Kevin Stoffel, Contrabass, 2-time Camper and 4-time TA including 2018

Kevin Stoffel introduces himself to senior citizens when performing for them in a Holiday Concert of 2017.

Part of why I want to pursue chemistry is because I’ve always had a fascination with pure substances.  The concept of looking at something and knowing that it isn’t an (effectively) inseparable mixture of fifteen, or six, or even two things was always really cool to me, even at a young age.  What better place to see, work with, and study pure substances than in in a chemistry laboratory?  And what better form to see or even hold a pure substance than one where the molecules are all lined up and packed together (theoretically) flawlessly, showing off their geometric arrangement even at the highly macroscopic scale—a crystal?

Anybody at home can grow some neat crystals easily and without much trouble.  Borax, for example, will form small, white, somewhat regular, somewhat boring crystals around a string or pipe cleaner dipped in a saturated solution.  But growing a really good crystal takes a bit more care, experience, cleanliness, safety, and equipment, as well as the right substance.  Certain substances very readily form quite regular, large, fine crystals without too much difficulty, if you know how to deal with them.  I do NOT recommend you try this at home, but I’ve been using copper(II) sulfate (blue) and potassium chromium sulfate (dark purple/red) to grow some really great crystals for a while now.  Soon, I actually hope to have enough sizeable specimens to give to my friends as gifts!  …After varnishing them in a protective clear coat using a pair of gloves, of course, because these chemicals are not considered safe to touch with bare skin.