Most minerals occur naturally, in their purest forms, as crystals. They can form in a variety of ways. Sometimes crystals are formed deep within the Earth, where intensely high pressures can cause the atoms of the minerals to align in a close, symmetrical pattern. A common example of crystals forming in this way is the diamond, formed when carbon sources are pushed together under such high pressures that they break down, pushing the atoms as close together as possible. Other crystals are formed when magma cools slowly, allowing the atoms of the elements within the magma to cluster together, growing symmetrically. In this instance, the shape of the crystal is dependant not only on the way the atoms lock together, but also on the room they have in which to grow. Some crystals can get very large if there is enough space.
Still other crystals are formed when a mineral rich liquid solution begins to evaporate, or can no longer support the mineral in a dissolved liquid state. In this process, nucleation is what allows the crystals to grow. Minerals will sometimes dissolve when immersed in a liquid state. When they do, the atoms from those minerals will lock on to the water (or other liquid) molecules and lose their solid structure. As the water evaporates, the atoms of the minerals will slowly come together. Once there is a large enough number of them, they will begin to attract more atoms of that mineral at a faster rate. These atoms will link together in regular patterns, forming crystals. This process is called Nucleation and there are some really cool activities that you can do at home in order to observe this process in action...
A CRYSTAL FOREST
1. 3 Tbs household Ammonia (NH3)
2. 1 Tbs table salt (NaCl - Sodium Chloride)
3. 3 Tbs laundry bluing (I used Mrs. Stewart's)
4. Paper plate
5. Cleaned toilet paper tube
6. Well ventilated area
7. Safety Goggles.
1. Put on your safety goggles!
2. Clean your toilet paper tube of any remaining bits of paper. Tear the top half into strips, approximately 1" in length.
3. Using your tablespoon, measure and pour the ammonia and bluing on to the paper plate. Make sure you are in a well ventilated area or next to an open window! Ammonia is incredibly potent with its burning odor.
4. Add the salt and gently stir the solution.
5. Place your toilet paper tube in the center of your plate and wait.
There is another demonstration you can do to see this process in action, although this one runs the course of several days instead of 24 hours. The nice thing about this demonstration is that you can use different materials to see which will generate better crystal growth. We used four different surfaces and were pretty surprised with the results...
SALT CRYSTAL GARDEN
1. 1 Tbs household Ammonia (NH3)
2. 1 Tbs laundry bluing (this will stain your tablespoon)
3. 1 Tbs table salt (NaCl - Sodium Chloride)
4. 1 Tbs Distilled Water
5. A plastic container or shallow aluminum pan to hold your garden
6. A surface for the crystals to grow on (we used charcoal, sponge, clay brick and cement brick)
7. Safety Goggles
8. Hammer (if using a brick or charcoal)
9. A dry, covered area area outside for the storing of your crystal garden
10. Food coloring (optional)
1. Put on your safety goggles!
2. Clean your pan of any crust, stickers (if new), or plastic.
3. If you're using bricks or charcoal for your garden, you'll want to take them outside and break them into smaller (about 1") pieces. You'll definitely want your goggles on for this as tiny sharp rocks will be flying from your bricks. I hammered chunks off the brick and let Kat hammer a chunk off the charcoal.
4. Take your supplies outside and get to work! Start by pouring 1 Tbs of Ammonia, 1 Tbs Bluing, 1 Tbs Distilled Water, and 1 Tbs of Salt into the pie pan.
6. If you would like to add a splash of color to your garden, now is the time to add the food coloring! Place one drop of color onto each surface.
7. Wait. Within a half hour, we began seeing results. Within 24 hours, the results were stunning!
|This was how great our crystal growth was after only 24 hours! |
This was the cement brick, which gave the best results.
Make sure you "feed" your crystal garden daily. Add the same amount of ingredients as you did when you started the project, and keep going until you either run out of bluing or are done being entertained with your crystal garden. We found that at first, the materials we used differed greatly in crystal growth. The cement brick yielded the best results, followed closely by the clay brick. After a few days however, everything had pretty much evened out. The sponges, however, yielded very little crystal growth. I don't think we'll be using those again in the future!
As we were monitoring our crystal gardens, we couldn't help but marvel over the delicate crystal formations that were growing on the surfaces. When our paper towel roll "bloomed" it looked like a beautiful forest of soft crystal trees. As our outdoor garden grew, it quickly began to resemble the beautiful corals of the Great Barrier Reef. It was so wonderful to see the beauty that could result from such atomic arrangements. I wondered if we might be able to watch the progress under the microscope. I had never tried a crystal garden on a slide before, I wasn't sure if it could be done, or if we could even view the crystals as they grew...
|As it turns out, you can! Our garden looked so beautiful set on the slide.|
A GARDEN THROUGH THE MICROSCOPE
1. A microscope
2. Microscope slides
3. Glass medicine dropper (we got ours at a pharmacy, it was under $2)
4. Household Ammonia (NH3)
5. Laundry bluing (will stain the dropper)
6. Distilled Water
7. Table salt (NaCl - Sodium Chloride)
8. A surface for your crystals will grow (we used brick, charcoal, toilet paper, and a sponge)
9. Latex gloves
10. Safety goggles
1. Put on your latex gloves and safety goggles!
2. This is going to closely resemble the larger crystal garden. You'll want to break off tiny pieces of surface material. We chipped off a small piece of brick and charcoal, and ripped off tiny pieces of the toilet paper roll and sponge.
3. Take your eye dropper and drop one drop of each liquid on to the slide. As in the above experiment, everything is at a 1:1 ratio.
4. Add your surface materials to the slide.
5. Sprinkle 1 drop's worth of salt over the liquid and surface materials.
6. Wait. Check the slide under the microscope periodically, monitoring for crystal growth. Within minutes, we were able to see some beautiful structures develop.
|Crystal growth, stage 1.|
We checked under the microscope every few minutes. Because there was so little liquid to begin with, evaporation and nucleation occurred at a rapid pace. Within twenty minutes a full crystal garden had developed and we were able to see some stunning pictures at the microscopic level! Here are some of the larger crystals (these are the white crystals you see billowing out on the slide):
My favorite picture of all though, came from the garden after it had set. We could see the crystal garden in its larger form above, but we could also see some of the smaller crystals as they were beginning to form around it. Because we had such small amounts of liquid and the evaporation occurred so quickly, these crystals were sort of frozen in formation and they were stunning!
|It's a superstar sparkly pattern of SCIENCE!|
As we learned more about how crystals form and where they can occur in nature, it has made us really appreciate them when we see them. Sometimes, when we see crystals in the ground, we're looking at time, heat, and pressure, and these effects on the structure of atoms. When we season with salt, or sweeten with sugar, we're ingesting the results of mineral soaked solutions evaporating over time. Getting a really good look at the results of these processes has allowed us to really appreciate things in a fuller way. There is beauty all around you, you just have to look for it!
|These were in our sugar sprinkle jar!|
It may just be in your kitchen cabinets, as gems waiting to be discovered.