Make Your Own: Atom Board

Have you seen the gorgeousness that is the ETC Atom board? It’s so very pretty. And so very expensive!

My kids want to do some work with electrical circuits, and I think we’re going to do some chemistry with our science buddies. Starting at the beginning with stellar nucleosynthesis and a definition of the atom seems to link both and makes sense to me. Do I NEED the atom board now – NO, and a paper drawing or pom-pom models would absolutely suffice, but it’s Spring Break and I needed a project. I like projects. We can use this board forever, and it was a quick, cheap project. There. I justified it!

My only real expense for this project was a 4ft-2ft board from the hardware store. We had all the tools and some scrap wood on hand. We ripped the board in half to make two 2ftx2ft boards and I sanded the edges.

Materials Needed:
– 24″x24″ wooden board
– drill
– 1/4″ drill bit and another as large as needed
– 1/2″ countersink drill bit
– wood-burning tool
– sander or sandpaper
– protractor and geometry sticks or ruler

Using the images on the ETC site, and MontessoriSecondPlane I knew I needed 7 orbits, and decided I wanted the orbits 1.25″ apart, starting about 3 inches from center.

I used a scrap piece of wood to make myself a jig. I drilled a small hole (1/4″ drill bit) to use as my starting point, then, starting 3 inches away, I drilled holes with the largest drill bit we had about every 1.25″ – you can see that my measurements weren’t quite perfect!

I measured across the diagonals of the board to find the middle. I also drilled a 1/4″ hole on the middle, and used the drill bit itself to make the pivot point connecting the board and the jig.

My large holes were big enough to allow my wood-burning tool through. I used the jig like a compass to burn circles on my base piece of wood. It was pretty slow going. I did my first pyrography in England, and when we moved to the US I got frustrated and gave up – I still have the same tool. I think I gave up because wood-burning here is so slow! Voltage is higher in England and I’m sure my English tool ran hotter. But, as an adult, slow tasks can be kind of nice, so I didn’t mind too much!

Using the linked images from ETC and MontessoriSecondPlane I counted that I needed holes for:
– 2 electrons in the first orbit (180 degrees between electrons)
– 8 electrons in the second orbit (45 degrees between electrons)
– 18 electrons in the third orbit (20 degrees between electrons)
– 32 electrons in the fourth orbit (11.25 degrees between electrons)
– 32 electrons in the fifth orbit (11.25 degrees between electrons)
– 18 electrons in the sixth orbit (20 degrees between electrons)
– 8 electrons in the seventh orbit (45 degrees between electrons)

I have a slightly different set of geometry sticks that attach to a protractor – the was SO helpful! I just used the protractor and sticks to mark out position for the electrons. For the orbits with 32 electrons I did 3 electrons spaced 11 degrees apart followed by the 4th 12 degrees apart.

Then, using a 1/2″ countersink drill bit, I drilled a well for every electron. I gave the whole thing a good sand and wipe down. You could easily stop here, but I did decide to stain/seal it – because we already had an open can on hand.

I have a glass cup that fits and hides my accidental too-small innermost orbit perfectly and then I have clear marbles on hand that I will use to represent neutrons, and I plan to use blue pony beads to represent electrons. I just need to source matching red marbles to represent protons, and we’re ready to go!

Since I had everything else on hand, the total project cost was only around $20 for the wood, plus whatever I spend on the marbles. The project took me about 4 hours over two days, plus two staining sessions. Cheap, and pretty quick!