Project M - 1000 samples, 100 schools, one great big experiment

110 schools took part in Project M - a novel and exciting research project. To help us understand calcium carbonate, schools made samples using specially selected additives. The samples were sent back to us to analyse using our laboratory Beamline I11 at Diamond. We analysed samples returned in a 24-hour period on the 26th of April 2017. This experiment created a giant set of results, which has just been published in the chemistry journal CrystEngComm.

Check our our poster and video below.

We have also written a smaller paper in the journal Frontiers in Communication sharing our personal lessons learnt with the scientific community. We have learnt a huge amount from doing this work and are hugely grateful to all schools who got involved.

The Science

Calcium carbonate has three main forms or ‘polymorphs’: vaterite, calcite and aragonite. We are trying to find out which of the polymorphs form for each of the additives. Some of these additives are amino acids, the building blocks which create proteins in the body. We know how to identify the different polymorphs using Diamond – they each have a specific chemical fingerprint which we can detect using X-rays.


Calcium carbonate

Calcium carbonate is an important mineral, found in living organisms such as the shells of snails, eggs and shellfish. It also makes up familiar materials such as chalk, limestone and marble. Depending on where you live, you might also find it inside your kettle, as crunchy white lime scale. Calcium carbonate is used in a wide variety of industrial processes, and can take several forms, which all have different properties.


Diamond Light Source produces one of the brightest lights on planet earth, in the form of X-ray beams which allow us to understand the atomic structure of materials. Scientists come from all over the UK and further afield to use these X-rays to make better drugs, understand the natural world, and create futuristic materials.

Project M Poster

Click here to view the poster in full. 


Who took part?


Secondary school students from all over the UK took part in Diamond's largest citizen science experiment helping us understand calcium carbonate. The experiment was aimed at A-level chemists and science clubs at KS3/4/5 and was carried out in two sessions of 45 minutes at least one week apart.

Please also note that there are opportunities available to visit Diamond as part of our Schools Program