How to make an atom from styrofoam

Written by richard schupp
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How to make an atom from styrofoam
Creating a model atom from styrofoam is fun and easy. (atom_topaz image by Sergey Tokarev from

Building a model of an atom is a staple activity of any introductory chemistry class. The models help students see the structure of an atom and aid learning by using a step-by-step process of construction. Styrofoam balls are the most common material used for this exercise. However, a ping pong balls and playdough shaped like a ball have also been used to build these kinds of models. Whatever the material, the result is the same: students are learning science in a fun and creative way.

Skill level:

Things you need

  • Periodic table
  • Styrofoam balls
  • Hot-glue gun
  • Wire
  • Play dough
  • Fishing line

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  1. 1

    Choose an element from the periodic table on which to base your model. Nitrogen atoms are commonly used for this activity, since they are well-known and relatively simple in structure.

  2. 2

    Make sure you have styrofoam balls of at least two different colours. One colour will represent the protons in the nucleus; the other colour will represent the neutrons. Plain balls may be painted.

  3. 3

    Glue the styrofoam balls together using a hot glue gun. For a nitrogen atom, you will need seven protons and seven neutrons.

  4. 4

    Bend wire to create a circle and tie the ends together. This will represent the orbital path of the atom's electrons.

  5. 5

    Form the play dough into tiny balls at intervals around the wire. These will represent the electrons that orbit the atom. A nitrogen atom has seven electrons.

  6. 6

    Tie the fishing line around your nucleus and loop the line around your wire so that it appears that the wire is the orbital path of the electrons. This model can be hung from a ceiling or fixture to create a mobile.

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