How to Make a Model of the Uranium Atom

By Noreen Kassem

Things Needed

  • Medium gauge wire
  • Measuring tape
  • Pliers
  • Scissors
  • Plastic or wooden beads in one color
  • 2 Styrofoam balls, medium and small
  • Paint and brushes
  • Stick-on labels and marking pen
Uranium is an important radioactive element.

Uranium is the heaviest natural element and is known as "U" in the periodic table in chemistry. This important element has a wide range of potential uses, including generating electricity. Several isotopes or forms of uranium exist, including radioactive atoms. The isotope called U-235 is considered to be "fissile" because its nucleus can be easily split in a process called nuclear fission, releasing vast amounts of energy. Uranium that has been used in nuclear processes is called depleted uranium. This waste is used to make missile heads that can penetrate tanks and buildings. With the right materials, you can make a model of this atom for your science or chemistry class project.

Purchase medium gauge wire from a hardware store. The wire can be metallic, white or black in color and should be easily bendable by hand and with pliers. Purchase round wooden or plastic beads and a medium- and small-sized Styrofoam ball from a hobby shop. The beads should be large enough to be threaded by the wire.

Assemble the nucleus of the uranium atom using the Styrofoam balls. The nucleus of the U-235 isotope consists of 92 protons and 143 neutrons. Use the larger ball to represent the neutrons. Paint this one solid shade and label it "143 neutrons." Use the smaller ball to represent the protons. Paint this ball in a solid color and label it "92 protons." Glue the two balls together to form the nucleus of your uranium atom.

Create the outer orbits of your uranium atom using the wire and large beads. The orbits of the uranium atom contain 92 electrons that circle the nucleus. Measure how large you would like the atom's orbits to be in relation to the nucleus. Measure and cut three pieces of wire in this size with your pliers. These will form the outer electron orbits of the uranium atom.

Thread the round beads onto each wire. You do not have to use 92 beads to represent each electron. Place clusters of beads on each wire to represent all the electrons. Bend each wire into an elliptical or oval shape and close it by twisting the edges together using the pliers. Label one of the bead clusters with "92 electrons."

Assemble your completed uranium atom by placing the three orbits on top of each to resemble a flower. The first orbit should be placed vertical, the second diagonally to the right on top of it and the third diagonally to the left on top of both of them. Attach the wire orbits together with clear tape. Place the nucleus at the center of the wire orbits and attach them together by twisting a straight piece of wire to one of the orbits and sticking it into one of the foam balls of the nucleus. Label the finished model atom with "Uranium U-235."

Tip

You can also make a three-dimensional atom model by arranging the three wire orbits in different directions. The finished uranium atom model can be placed on a table stand or hung from the ceiling.

Warning

Ensure that the beads are securely attached to the model and do not come loose. Small beads are choking hazard for infants and small children. Pliers should not be used by young children; adult supervision is important.

About the Author

Noreen Kassem is a hospital doctor and a medical writer. Her articles have been featured in "Women's Health," "Nutrition News," "Check Up" and "Alive Magazine." Kassem also covers travel, books, fitness, nutrition, cooking and green living.