Pupils take crystal-growing challenge at Strathclyde

Bassim Sartawi's prize-winning entry in the Crystal Growth competition. Photo courtesy of Springburn Academy.

A pupil at a Glasgow secondary school has taken a prize in a Europe-wide crystal-growing challenge, organised through the University of Strathclyde.

Bassim Sartawi was among the Springburn Academy pupils taking part in the Crystal Growth competition, alongside schools in France, Germany and the Netherlands. They were the only UK school in the tournament.

Teams were set the challenge of growing crystals from sodium bromate, a compound used in dyes and hairstyling products, analysing them in university laboratories and photographing the results.

Competition judges chose Bassam’s crystal among the most aesthetic, interesting and creative entries. He will receive a certificate, medal and framed photo.  

The competition was run by the Strathclyde-led CORE (Marie Skłodowska-Curie Innovative Training Network on Continuous Resolution and Deracemisation of Chiral Compounds by Crystallisation) Network, an international, a European Commission-funded project aimed at producing more effective medicines through new processes for separating molecules.

Pupils participating in the Crystal Growth competition

CORE Project Manager Claire Scott said: “We had a great response to the competition at Springburn Academy. Teachers and pupils alike were enthusiastic and the pupils’ work was very impressive – congratulations, in particular, to Bassim on his prize.

“Sodium bromate was chosen because it’s an easy substance to grow, is less hazardous and shows some peculiar crystallisation behaviour. The pupils approached it from different standpoints – some took pictures of the crystals grown to large sizes, while others investigated small, fast-grown crystals under a microscope.

“The competition was organised by the CORE early stage researchers, who provided the pupils with an introduction about the CORE Project and their scientific work in crystallisation. We would hope the competition helps to get them interested in going to university and particularly in studying science subjects.”

Raghunath Venkatramanan, a Researcher in Strathclyde Institute of Pharmacy and Biomedical Sciences, was one of the competition’s organisers. He said: “The school pupils hadn’t done much work in crystallisation before but they were interested in studying science and asked tough questions.

“Fractal crystals grow quickly, within a few hours, and with small variations in experimental conditions different patterns were generated. The pupils were able to look at the fractal pattern generated under optical microscope and got some interesting results.”


Susan Liddell, Chemistry Teacher at Springburn Academy, said: “We are absolutely delighted with Bassim’s success in the competition. This was a fantastic opportunity for our S5 Chemistry students. They were very excited about being part of this tournament and thoroughly enjoyed their day at the University of Strathclyde. It was such a positive experience for all the pupils involved. Working in a university laboratory and using equipment we don’t have in school gave many of them aspirations for future careers in science and motivation to keep working hard in school.

“The pictures they achieved were of an excellent standard and we all had a difficult job choosing which ones to enter. Thanks go to the team at the University of Strathclyde for inviting us to be part of this as the experiences and skills the pupils have gained is priceless!”

The winners of crystal growth were announced during the BIWIC (25th International Workshop on Industrial Crystallization) conference in Rouen.