Atomic Breakdown

This week in the News: December 22, 2011

An event showing four muons (red tracks) from a proton-proton collision in ATLAS. On Tuesday, December 13, 2011, physicists using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) announced that they think they are closing in on the Higgs boson. This hypothetical particle, if it exists, would explain how particles have mass.

Scientists today know that matter is made of molecules, and molecules of atoms. Atoms consist an electron cloud around a nucleus, which is made of protons and neutrons. Each proton or neutron has about two thousand times the mass of an electron. These masses and configurations relate to how chemistry's Periodic Table is organized.

Peter Higgs developed a model which explains particle masses. He proposed that all of space is permeated by a field, similar in some ways to the electromagnetic field. As particles move around they pass through this field. If they interact with the field, then they acquire what appears to be mass. The scientists at CERN believe that if the Higgs field exists, then they are getting closer to finding quantiative evidence of it. That evidence would be what scientists refer to as the Higgs boson, a particle associated with the Higgs field.

This week, find out what the Large Hadron Collider helps scientists break down how the universe works and how discoveries and hypotheses proposed by a number of key scientists over the last few centuries have revelaed a lot about the nature of the atom.

Atomic Figures

Begin with a short history lesson about Atomic Theories. Did you know that the term "atom" was first coined as far back as 300 BC? From what ancient Greek is the term derived and what does it mean? Use the information on the page to develop your own written timeline, including an illustration for each model. Tape together two letter-sized sheets of paper and include extra space between scientists to fill more into the timeline later.

Who proposed what ideas about the atom's nature? What were the pros and cons of each model? How did Rutherford disprove Thomson's raisin bun model?

Illustration of an atomic model.Make sure to scroll all the way down the page to examine more details about today's atomic model. What are the relative masses of protons, neutrons, and electrons? On another sheet of paper separate from your timeline, copy the diagram showing Boron's atomic number, atomic mass, and symbol, as it shows on the Periodic Table, and also its Bohr-Rutherford diagram, which shows the number of electrons in each energy shell.

Visit the Chemical Heritage Foundation to learn more about these key scientists and others who have contributed to understanding Atomic and Nuclear Structure. For each featured scientist, read about their career and experiments that shed some light on understanding the nature of matter and energy. Place additional scientists on your timeline, briefly summarizing their contributions.

The Periodic Table

Continue exploring the atom's discovery history by following The Path to the Periodic Table. Add these scientists to your timeline, summarizing their contributions. How did determining atomic weights help scientists organize different elements?

You have met many of the key players that have helped us understand the atom, but now get a good explanation of what their contributions mean. Take some time to learn more about The Periodic Table at the Annenberg Foundation. Read through each page in the module's six chapters, and make sure to play the games at the end of each chapter.

In Atomic Basics, find out what periodicity means and why it is important. What is the significance of an element's protons versus its electrons or neutrons? From the Name That Atom game, raw diagrams showing examples of the atomic structure of one or more elements.

In the next chapter, It's Elementary, you will learn more about energy levels and orbitals. (Note that at any time, you can check out or print the interactive Periodic Table as a reference.) Draw a diagram that explains the different energy orbitals that can exist. From the Building Elements game, illustrate sample elements and write it out in both notation styles.

Next, find out What's In the Box. This chapter explains how and why the Periodic Table is organized the way it is. Finish the chapter by playing the Which One of These Elements Doesn't Belong game. Continue exploring how the Periodic Table is organized in the Isotopes and Groups chapters. Finish up the module by Testing Your Skills with a quiz. If you answer a question incorrectly, your results page will point you in the right direction to review the module's content to find the right answer.

Atomic Investigations Today

A view of the Large Hadron Collider's second largest detector, used in the Compact uon Solenoid experiment.So, what are scientists today discovering about the atom? Sure, two new elements were recently added to the Periodic Table, but how is CERN experimenting to find the Higgs boson? Its circular Large Hadron Collider (LHC) is the largest machine in the world, with a total of 9,300 magnets inside. The machine makes trillions of protons race around it at a rate of 99.9999991 percent the speed of light. Currently, the LHC is being used to conduct six major experiments. One of those is the Compact Muon Solenoid (CMS) experiment, which is working on searching for the Higgs boson, extra dimensions, and particles that could make up dark matter.

Get an introduction to the LHC by watching two short videos at SciVee.TV, Chalk Talk: Large Hadron Collider and Science Digest Episode 4 - Particle Guy.

Then, get a little more serious by visiting CERNland. Click your language to enter, and then go to the Videos section to watch the movie, CERN in 3 minutes. Listen to the narrator explain what the facility is and what scientists do there and why. Following that video, use the arrows on each side of the video player to flip through the gallery to also watch the Particle Hunters video.

Why are scientists smashing subatomic particles into each other? What have they learned by using this technique? What questions do scientists hope to answer from doing these experiments?

For more information, visit CERN's Large Hadron Collider section at its main website.

Newspaper Activities

Browse through current news in The Sacramento Bee and identify an object, either living or non-living, that you see in a photograph. Decide on one or more elements from the Periodic Table from which the object is made. For example, a plant is composed of carbon and a soda can is composed of aluminum. Using what you learned during this lesson, paste the photo on a poster board or import a digital version into an illustration or video editing software. Then, "pull out" an atom from the object and develop an illustration of your selected element's atomic structure. Make sure to include appropriate labels and any brief explanations, as needed.

Weekly News Topics

Each week The Bee publishes a new weekly news topic for students who use the Internet and newspaper as learning resources. The weekly news topic are tied to current events in the news and help students extend their knowledge on a wide range of subjects. Click here to return to the table of contents.

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