Molecules With Personality




Introduction: Molecules With Personality

About: I'm a Mechancial/Aerospace Engineer that likes to tinker in my spare time. I make my own Christmas Cards.

How often have you looked at your molecular ball and stick models and thought, “Not expressive enough.” Let’s face it, they capture the atomic structure but not the soul of the atom. Fortunately I am here with your answer.

An advanced degree in chemistry or a related field is not required for this model, but may be desirable for other reasons (we certainly could use more graduates in the STEM fields). This Instructable includes steps for making Ethanol in several forms and a Hipster Caffeine. The coloring is based on standard CPK colors.

Ethanol is, of course, the stuff that makes wine and beer so much more fun than grape juice malted barley and hop soup. A pair of carbons with an hydroxide bit and five hydrogen atoms. The is most often made the same way as it has for the last 10,000 or so years: by feeding sugar to yeast and dining their...output. Mead makes the notable list as it is nectar that has been eaten and regurgitated by bees then eaten and...expelled... by yeast. This molecule can be heavenly and brewers would claim that content naturally lost in the aging process was "the angel's share". It is well known that the aqua vitae has the power to bring life and fun to the party but also is the Devil’s drink. Not to worry, we also have a bit of the “hair of the dog” for you.

The next most popular chemical "mood-shifter" is, of course, Caffeine. This popular double ring is the source of coffee's power and has done more to propel the nation's astronauts than 1000 tons of hydrogen and a spark plug. You're best bet for making this gift to students and workers everywhere is by taking advantage of its water solubility and extracting it from coffee beans, tea, or reportedly from the dew found on the mountains. This "mountain dew" makes the special list for being both an old slang term for alcohol as well as a lemon lime soda turned awesome by the addition of caffeine and orange juice. We naturally will find the most identifiable form of caffeine is the hipster, with his Buddy Holly glasses and that novel he found at this second hand shop you probably have never heard of and is marking with insightful notes in the margins. He uses a #3 pencil ("H" for my international friends) because #2 is corporate shills. We hate him, but he makes good coffee.

These are by no means the limit! Look through your old, well worn, dog eared, loved chemistry book for fun molecules. Harry Potter fans may choose their potions books, provided that they have good chemical formulae and/or instructions from The Half Blood Prince. Covalent molecules are best as metals and ionic molecules tend to be found as crystals lattices that both go on forever and are not hip. Also be wary of large organics as they will be huge models (e.g. each "rung" of a DNA ladder contains around 30 atoms, but the strand has over a million rungs). Next, search your heart and delve into the soul of the molecule. Try to divine the true nature of your chosen sequence of non living basic matter. Finally...once you are ready and your inner light is bare, go to your local hobby store and gather the following...

Step 1: Materials


  • Pom poms: they come in different sizes and colors. You will need lots of black and white but also some red and blue (sky blue for purists). I go for the smallest I can find.
  • Toothpicks: any small dowel will work, but toothpicks are a perfect size and easy to find. Use the plain round ones. The pointy tips will be used for devil's horns


  • Paper: for wings and glasses. I used white index cards and a marker for color but plain paper or construction paper can be used
  • A marker, black
  • Paint, red
  • Thread or thin string, white
  • Two fingers of Whiskey, neat or on the rocks
  • A Cup of Joe, dark as night and sweet as sin


  • Hot glue and applicator: a hot glue gun is great but I've been really happy with a hot glue pot you will see in action
  • Diagonal wire cutters or a similar cutting device for the toothpicks
  • Scissors, preferably small ones
  • Hobby Knife
  • A Kind Heart and Open Mind

Step 2: Planning

This is the research portion of the project. If you followed the introduction you should already have a molecule selected and a full character summary, family history, likes and dislikes, Facebook page, and chemical formula. If you have in addition an astrological chart and equivalencies to the classical elements, ten points to Gryffindor.

If you haven't already, I like to draw out the 2D molecular diagram to help me keep oriented. For those without a strong chemistry background, there are a lot of detailed rules, especially for larger molecules. I started to write some of the simpler ones out but the tortured soul of my chemistry professor cried out from the nether depths and told me to just look up the 2D diagram on Wikipedia or a more reliable reference. When it was too complex, I asked my wife (this seems less strange when you realize she has a B.S. in Chemistry). If you aren’t married or your spouse isn’t a trained chemist and genius like mine, you may want to consider either reevaluating your relationship options or better yet asking your local expert. If you are really in a bind, post in the comments and I’ll see if my wife or our network of chemists can help.

Now start planning in your mind the 3D shape. This is one area where you will have to use artistic licence at times. Generally, imagine four bonds coming from the atom at the corners of an imaginary trapezoid. You could use this reference if you want for the exact geometry.Your professor will give you extra credit until he sees that the pom-poms don’t hold exact positions very well.Cry a little.

Then, use this simple layout: Imagine four bonds coming out from the atom like the corners of a trapezoid.

  • If you have four single bonds, use the four trapezoid positions.
  • If you have less than four but all single bonds, eliminate the surplus positions.
  • If you have a double bond with two singles, have them in one plane at 120° from each other.
  • If you have a double bond or triple bond (not shown) with one single, place them directly opposite each other.
  • If you have a quadruple bond, you should re-check your references and stay after class.

In most serious models, double and triple bonds are modeled with curved connections that still connect at the tetrahedron points. For simplicity I will use two (or, if I were to have a triple bond, three) parallel straight connections instead. Feel free to use the more complex method. You could try to get a bent dowel or use the springs from "clicky" pens.

Each element has a specific color. I’m using CPK coloring for these with:

  • White for Hydrogen
  • Black for Carbon
  • Blue (Sky Blue for purists) for Nitrogen
  • Red for Oxygen
  • Check the reference for other elements

Count up the number of bonds you need to make (including double and triple bonds as two and three bonds respectively) and the number of each element you need.

For example:

  • Ethanol has 8 bonds, 2 black balls (carbon), 1 red ball (oxygen), and 6 white balls (hydrogen)
  • Caffeine has 19 bonds, 8 black balls (carbon), 2 red balls (oxygen), 10 white balls (hydrogen), and 4 blue balls (nitrogen)

My wife tells me that normally the hydrogen bonds are made shorter than regular bonds. If you want to follow this (I did because I love my wife) and so you will want to count 6 of the ethanol bonds and 10 of the caffeine bonds will be “short”.

Step 3: Cutting Bonds

This is the simple but tedious part. Using your write cutters or something similar, cut sections of the toothpicks, one per bond. The length is up to your artistic sensibilities. If you are making shortened bonds for hydrogen, cut them about half length.

If you are really feeling frugal, you can make your molecules without using sticks and just gluing the balls to each other directly, but that's not how I roll.

Step 4: Assembly

Now is the exciting bit, since it involves working with tiny pieces and very hot glue. Time to assemble your base molecule.

I found that for a hot glue gun it is easier to apply the glue to the balls while with the glue pot it is easiest to dip the sticks. In any case, be sure to keep checking against your planned shape, especially for more complex molecules. Remember, the atoms for DNA, when arranged in the wrong order, will make TNT. I am not responsible for model explosions if you assemble your model into high explosives.

Step 5: Decoration

This is where your model should really take a life of it's own. I have four decoration schemes here, but the possibilities are endless.

Carefully use the hot glue to attach your accessories to your molecules. Remember that they pom poms have some flex use this to your advantage. The hot glue often leaves little stringers behind. These can be trimmed off with a small scissors.

Step 6: Devil Horns

Paint the tips of two toothpicks red. I used plastic model enamel paint with a gloss finish.

Painting first is best since you can use the rest of the toothpick to hold on to. Trying to paint a tiny tip like that already cut is asking for messy hands.

Cut the tips of the toothpicks off. The exact length is up to your sense of scale. It's always better to start long and see how they look; you can always scale back.

Step 7: Angel Halo

Start with a longer piece of thread or string.

Form your initial loop and then wrap one end through the loop to make a stronger braid.

The thread ends should be trimmed to the same point on the loop so that the dip of hot glue can secure the ends and hold it to the "head" at the same time.

Step 8: Angel Wings

I like to double up my card stock and cut both wings at the same time with scissors or a hobby knife to ensure symmetry.

You can draw tiny feathers with a pen if you like or leave them plain.

Step 9: Dog Snout and Ears

Color all of your parts before cutting except for drawing the nose.

Cut the ears from card stock as small triangles. If you cut them together they will look more uniform, but cut separately they may have more character, so your choice.

Cut the nose from card stock and fold in an inverted "U" shape. I added a small rectangular bit at the bottom for support.

Color, cut out, and glue a tongue. These are pretty difficult because of the size.

Use a pliers or tweezers to dip in glue to save your fingers.

Step 10: Hipster Glasses and Pencil


It is easier to color the paper before cutting, like the devil horns. You can also find black construction paper or card stock. Just cut and bend.


Hipsters would never use a lame yellow pencil, so don't worry about coloring that part.

Cut a toothpick to length, leaving the sharp tip. If you can, round the blunt end a bit with an Emory board or sandpaper.

Paint the blunt end red for an eraser and the tip of the pointy end black for the lead. I painted the black end before cutting to give it longer to dry before I held it to paint the eraser.

Extra points if you knock it around a bit on the shaft to make it look chewed on.

Step 11: Book

Cut several layers of card stock (thinner paper also works) and fold in half.

If you are putting writing in it, do that before assembly.

Use a small dot of hot glue at the center to hold the layers together. Be sure to fold the book over before the glue cools to a solid.

After it is cool, use a hobby knife to trim the edges even.

Step 12: Conclusion

There you have it, you are now the proud owner of the most interesting molecules in chemistry today. Trade them with friends, show them off, combine them to make combinations heretofore unseen by mankind.

Feel free to make suggestions for other accessories I'm the comments. If you can't think how to do your idea, put out up anyhow and we'll try to help.

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    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! If I can get it become a meme I'll be very happy.


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    Thanks! You can have other molecules that kids will like more, such as water, sugars, and simple amino acids.