Alum Crystal Mine

 - by KitchenPantryScientist

Imagine pieces of matter (too small to see) called atoms that will only fit together in a certain way, like a puzzle.  These atoms can attach to each other to form small three-dimensional shapes, or larger ones, but the shape will always be the same, depending on what kind of atoms make up the “puzzle pieces.”

This is what happens when crystals are formed.  Diamonds and salt, for example, are crystals shaped like cubes, while quartz crystals are formed in trigonal shapes, sort of like three-dimensional kites. You can have very small diamonds, or huge ones, like the Hope Diamond, which is as big as a silver dollar and blue from impurities in the stone, but they will all have the same basic shape.

We grew alum crystals in a jar last week and I am amazed at how beautiful they are.  I couldn’t get a very good picture, but they look like a string of real gems and were simple to grow.

To grow these spectacular crystals, you will need a small jar of alum, which can be found with the spices at the grocery store, water, a glass, a jar, a stick and some thread.

Fill the glass with about 3/4 cup of water and add a few teaspoons of alum powder.  Stir until the powder dissolves and repeat until no more alum will dissolve and you can still see some floating around in the glass.  Then, let the glass sit overnight or until some small alum crystals form in the bottom or on the sides of the cup.  It took two days for us to get some decent crystals, but we got several small ones that were fun to look at!

Fish a large crystal out of the glass with a spoon and tie a thread around it.  Tie the other end of the thread around the stick (we used a BBQ skewer) and wind it up so that you can rest the stick over the mouth of the jar and the crystal will hang down about half way.  Then, pour the remaining liquid from the cup into the jar.  There is still alum in the water, which will add more “puzzle pieces” to the crystal and make it grow bigger.

Now you can watch your crystal grow.  What shape is it?  Look at your crystals under a magnifying glass.  Take a picture of them, or draw them your science notebook!  Here is a link to a great Smithsonian website where you can learn more about gems and crystals.

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