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National Museum of Nuclear Science & History

Learning about the Atom

Grade Level:


Students are introduced to the idea and structure of an atom with an engaging craft project.





Have students create models of atoms using Styrofoam balls and Popsicle sticks based on a worksheet with instructions on how to make atoms.  After the students create them, explain what "fission" is and how it was discovered first by accident by German scientists in late 1938 and named by a woman physicist Lise Meitner who had recently fled Nazi Germany for Sweden.

Because physics is an international field, word spread quickly to Britain and the United States. Talk about the experiments at Columbia University and Washington, DC to replicate "Fission" using uranium atoms. Teach the students about a "chain reaction" by taking apart their homemade atoms and why "fission" only works with certain elements, uranium and plutonium.