The atomic theory of matter is one of the fundamental theories of all science. The importance of this theory cannot be overstated. It has been said, among others, by Richard Feynman (theoretical physicist and joint Nobel Prize winner in 1965) that the atomic theory is the single most important theory in the history of science. The entirety of modern chemistry (and biochemistry) is based upon the theory that all matter is made up of atoms of different elements, which cannot be transmuted by chemical means.

Investigating elements is based on atomic theory, the concept of elements, the arrangement of elements in the periodic table and the uses of metal elements.

The science ideas and concepts

The approach in investigating elements has been to tie a study of atomic structure, elements and the periodic table with current science events. For example, a huge series of experiments are being conducted using the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) in Geneva. The outcome of these experiments will confirm or contradict current models of atomic structure and the forces that hold atoms together. There are links here to the Big Bang – the formation of the universe and the formation of elements. Perhaps the idea that “we are made from the ashes of long dead stars” will captivate the target audience.

Element discovery, new element syntheses, arrangement of elements in a table form and ‘which elements make up humans’ are all considered.

Individual elements may have different atomic forms, and use is often made of these, especially if they are radioactive. There are many examples from everyday life of the use of radioactive isotopes. Some of these uses are considered.

About 80% of all elements are metals. They have unique physical properties, some of which we put to use in our modern society.

Six science ideas and concept areas have been identified:

Attempts have been made to keep the content as simple as possible without compromising the accuracy of the information supplied.

The curriculum

The context links to these requirements in the curriculum:

  • Material World – level 4–5: The structure of matter. Begin to develop an understanding of the particle nature of matter and use this to explain observed changes. Describe the structure of atoms of different elements. Distinguish between an element and a compound, a pure substance and a mixture at particle level.
  • Physical World – level 5: Explore a technological or biological application of physics.

Investigating elements provides an opportunity to bring cutting-edge physical science into the classroom.

    Published 10 November 2010