How to Make a Model of an Atom

By: Contributors  | 
A student learning at home with a model of a molecule.
Making a model of an atom can help you better understand the nature of matter. Guido Mieth / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • To make a model of an atom, first select an atom with an atomic number of at least 11 to ensure it has three energy levels, then gather materials such as colored ping pong balls (for protons, neutrons, and electrons), string, cardboard and glue.
  • Construct the nucleus by gluing together balls representing protons and neutrons in an alternating pattern, then attach it to the center of the cardboard.
  • Create energy level rings with string around the nucleus for the electrons, adhering to the maximum number of electrons each ring can hold (2 for the first ring, 8 for the second, etc.), and glue the electrons evenly spaced on the rings.

You can learn a lot about the nature of matter by making a model of an atom. Before you begin, look through the Periodic Table of Elements and pick an atom. You can find the table in an encyclopedia, a science textbook or online. Choose an atom with an atomic number of at least 11, since it has at least three energy level rings [source: Atomic Model Construction].

OK let's make that model. Here's what you need:


  • Ping pong balls or other small round objects of three different colors. Get three times as many balls as the atomic number. You will use one color for the protons, one for the neutrons and one for the electrons.
  • String
  • Cardboard large enough to accommodate the model
  • Glue

Now let's make the model.

  1. Glue balls together to represent protons and neutrons. This is the nucleus. Try to arrange them in an alternating pattern.
  2. Glue the nucleus to the center of the cardboard.
  3. Determine how many rings you need for the electrons. Starting from the innermost ring, you can have up to two electrons in the first ring, up to eight in the second ring, up to 18 in the third ring and up to 32 in the fourth ring.
  4. Glue the string around the nucleus to make the energy level rings.
  5. Apply a few drops of glue to each ring.
  6. Glue the electrons on the rings, spacing them evenly. Make sure you don't exceed each ring's maximum number of electrons.

[source: Make a Model of an Atom]

You now have a model of an atom! If you don't want to build the model from parts, you can do it interactively on the internet [source: Interactive Atom Model].