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How DGS students helped crack a crystals conundrum

Posted on: 05/03/2024

Calcium carbonate is an important mineral found in biomaterials such as eggshells, snail shells and shellfish as well as in chalk, limestone and limescale. It exists in multiple forms or polymorphs, each with different properties, and scientists are working to find out how living things can direct the formation of these polymorphs according to the requirements of the organism. If this process can be understood, they may be able to make new materials for uses such as bone grafts. To find out, thousands of samples of calcium carbonate are needed, all made in the same way with minor variations, such as small amounts of different additives.

Back in 2016-17 eighteen members of Senior Science Club worked with scientists Dr Claire Murray and Dr Julia Parker from Diamond Light Source to make samples of calcium carbonate and to show that samples produced by school students in a school science lab were suitable for analysis by X-ray crystallography. They also developed protocols, kit contents and instructions to enable other schools across the UK to participate in the project.

Project M then involved the DGS group and over 100 other schools across the UK synthesising a total of 1,000 samples of calcium carbonate, made with specially selected additives, including amino acids. These were packed into sample tubes and sent back to Diamond where they were analysed in beamline I11 in April 2017.

The huge amount of data produced by this analysis has since been studied by the team of Diamond scientists and their findings have recently been published by the Royal Society of Chemistry. DGS is very proud to have been acknowledged by the authors for the time and effort the students spent in testing the experimental protocols for this research. The students who took part in Project M had the amazing opportunity to take part in a real research project while studying their GCSEs. We are also delighted to know that many of them have gone on to further study and work in STEM fields.

Click here to read the full article in The Guardian about the project.

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