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  • Writer's pictureAli

Understanding Atoms: How to Make a Cool Model of Neon

Our very first topic for science this summer is about atoms. Atoms are covered in a lot of detail in the Smithsonian Science! book but here is a concise list of what I wanted my son to learn with this topic.

  • all matter is made out atoms.

  • all atoms are made out of three particles: Protons, neutrons and electrons.

  • protons are positively charged, neutrons are neutral and electrons are negatively charged. The protons and neutrons are in the middle and heaviest. The electrons orbit around the protons and neutrons. Electrons are light in weight (not using the term "mass" because he's 7).

  • the number of protons, neutrons and electrons is equal and listed in the periodic table as the atomic number (in the corner).

  • electrons orbit the protons and neutrons in "shells". The first shell has a maximum or 2 electrons in it. The next shell has a maximum of 8, the one after has 8 as well. We are not going to get into he atoms that have shells greater than 8 electrons this year.

Making the Atom

We chose neon because it has 2 shells of electrons so it will show how electrons are organized without getting crazy big. I bought everything we needed for the model from the dollar store except for the Styrofoam which came free in a box of flat pack furniture.

Model of Neon
Model of Neon


  • Styrofoam blocks

  • toothpicks

  • 30 small Styrofoam balls

  • 3 colours of paint

  • craft wire, about 15 pieces

  • pliers, wire cutters, paint brush

How to Make the Model

1. Neon has an atomic number of 10 so this means it has 10 electrons, 10 protons and 10 neutrons. Skewer each Styrofoam ball onto a toothpick and anchor it in to the Styrofoam block.

2. Paint 10 balls one colour to represent protons, 10 another colour to represent neutrons and 10 your final colour to represent electrons. Let dry.

Our paint job was not perfect but this is more about my kid learning than getting a perfect picture

The floor cereal is accurately representative of my homemaking skills.

3. While those balls are drying, bend 5 pieces of the craft wire in half and twist them together to form a loop. Spread the wires out evenly and bend the last 3 cm down. Choose 2 that are across from each other to bend 5 cm down.

4. Twist the end of a wire and add a proton, then a neutron, then a proton, etc. until you have a string with 10 balls on it. Twist the other end of the wire to trap the balls on. Bend the wire in the middle. Repeat this step so you end up with 2 strings of 10 balls each.

5. Bend the proton/neutron wires around the middle of the atom and twist these around each other forming a big ball of protons and neutrons. Secure with more wire as needed.

6. Pop an electron onto the end of each wire so the wire punctures the ball completely and bend the wire around the ball. If the wires are to long on the electron in your inner shell you can trim them a bit.

7. That's pretty much it! You can hang it by the loop with some wire or string :)

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