How to Make a 3D Model of an Atom

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A very common science class activity is building 3D models of atoms. The 3D models give kids a much better understanding of how elements work and look.

The kids will need to use the periodic table to select an element. Once they have selected the element, the kids will have to calculate how many protons, neutrons and electrons each atom of the element has.

The atomic number equals the number of protons. The number of electrons is equal to the number of protons. The mass number minus the atomic number equals the number of neutrons. Fox example, nitrogen’s (N) atomic number is seven, which means it has seven protons and seven electrons, and its atomic mass is 14, which means it has seven neutrons. In the case of carbon (C), its atomic number is six and its atomic mass is six, which means it has six protons, six electrons and six neutrons.

The nucleus is made up of the protons and neutrons; the electrons are arranged in the electron cloud, the outside part of an atom. For a better understanding of the atom’s construction, color-code the components to easily identify them. Follow the steps below to make a 3D model of a carbon atom.

Step-by-step Guide to Build a 3D Model of an Atom

    Choose three different colors of paint for the balls. The colors will represent protons, neutrons and electrons. Decide which color you want to paint each component.

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    Press a toothpick into each Styrofoam ball to make a handle for painting. The handle is a mess-free way to paint the entire ball at once.

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    Paint six of the balls one color (to make proton models), six balls the second color (for the neutron models) and the last six balls the third color (for the electron models). When you finish, press the other end of the toothpicks into the Styrofoam sheet to allow the balls to dry.

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    Use a permanent black marker to draw a plus sign (+) on the protons to represent their positive charge.

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    Draw a minus sign (-) on the electrons to represent their negative charge.

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    Use more toothpicks or glue to connect the protons and neutrons to build the nucleus. Arrange them so they look like a clump of two different colors of balls.

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    Cut the wooden skewers so there are about six skewers 6 to 8 inches long. Press one end of each skewer in each of the electrons. Press the other end of the skewer into one of the protons or neutrons in the nucleus. Arrange all of the electrons in the same way around the nucleus to make an electron cloud.

    Things You'll Need

    • 18 Styrofoam craft balls (about 1 inch in circumference)
    • Paint
    • Toothpicks
    • Wooden skewers
    • Sheet of Styrofoam

    Different types of atoms have different numbers of protons, neutrons and electrons. Adjust the number of Styrofoam balls as needed.

About the Author

Based in the Midwest, Shelley Frost has been writing parenting and education articles since 2007. Her experience comes from teaching, tutoring and managing educational after school programs. Frost worked in insurance and software testing before becoming a writer. She holds a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education with a reading endorsement.

Photo Credits

  • Ignacio Lopez/Demand Media