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Scientists HELP!!! Ideas/Instructables for installation art celebrating chemistry, new elements, need models of atoms Answered

I am heading a group of teens making ART to be installed in a park in Livermore, CA where the Lawerence Livermore National Lab has commissioned us to celebrate the discovery of the 116th element "Livermorium" - problem is, we artists need help VISUALIZING and making the esoteric idea of atoms into VISUALS that the lay person could enjoy and understand. We have a corner park. We need to make INTERACTIVE science displays that are hardy to the weather and to human touch.
-- How to show (the latest ideas) of an atomic model for Livermorium??
-- How to explain/show what that element is for?
-- How to display the dynamics of molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, etc.
--what machines does a scientist use to discover new elements?
Please reply with links to images, explain simply about the structure of atoms/molecules, IDEAS?


This video might be of some use:

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That question would be better on its own forum topic.


My favorite activity when I was a middle school science teacher teaching atomic particles focused on the scale of atoms. The big idea is to compare the size of an atomic nucleus, protons, neutrons, and electrons to physical objects in our world at scale. For example, given a sculpture the size of a basket ball (or whatever) to represent a nucleus of Livermorium, how big would an electron be, and what is the range of distance from the nucleus where we would expect to find it? With a little back-of-the-envelope math you can take the proportions of an atom and scale them up to the visible world. It become truly mindblowing, because electrons are sooooo small compared to the nucleus and super far away from it, making the point that essentially atoms are a lot of empty space.

The planetarium and space section of the American Museum of Natural History in NYC has an exhibit focused on this idea, called Scales of the Universe ( http://www.amnh.org/rose/scales.html ). As you walk around the giant sphere in the center of the planetarium, various signs and models explain the ways that, if that giant sphere represented X (say, an atom, or the sun, or the earth), then how big would a scale replication of Y be (e.g. an electron, the earth, the moon) as compared to the size of the central giant sphere.

When I'd do an activity on this in class, we'd go out to the playground with something to represent the nucleus and the calculations in my back pocket. You then get volunteers to circle the "nucleus" at a distance basically as far as they can go in the playground (because really, the electrons in an atom this size could go MILES away from the basketball nucleus - http://wiki.answers.com/Q/How_big_is_the_nucleus_in_comparison_to_the_entire_atom ). This type of activity really would drive home the scale of the atom.

Hope it gives you some good food for thought.

Have you gotten in touch with the public affairs/outreach coordinators at the three Bay Area labs (Berkeley, LLNL, and SLAC)? All three of them have done major art development projects in the past, and should be able to give you direct contact with physicists whose specialties include superheavy elements.

Despite its poor reputation in general, the physics and chemistry articles in Wikipedia are quite accurate, often being written by graduate students or post-docs who specialize in the field they write about. You should definitely start there for all four of your questions, and follow the links to suporting data (which can also give you names of physicists to contact!).

I'm just a particle physicist, so the best I can do is give you some general guidance on your questions.

1) "How to show (the latest ideas) of an atomic model for livermorium?" Like all atoms, the electrons around a neutral Lv (only the symbol is capitalized, not the element name) are arranged in a series of "nested shells" or "orbitals," with each shell corresponding to a unique energy (and hence to a unique spectral line).

Neutral Lv atoms have not been created, so the orbitals are assumed, not observed. Symbolically, we write [Rn] 5f14 6d10 7s2 7p4, meaning that you start with the orbital structure of radon (Rn), then add 14 electrons in 5f, 10 in 6d, 2 in 7s, and 4 in the unfilled 7p shell. Here is a diagram (with the subshells within each principal quantum number combined) from Wikipedia:

Kiteman's idea of using a labyrinth design is quite execellent. It provides a good circular, layered structure within which to place electron "dots".

If you want to go with a full three-dimensional structure, you should look at how the actual "probability clouds" corresponds to the electrons in each shell are represented: "s" is symmetric, like a sphere; "p" are dumbell shaped, with one pair of electrons along each Cartesian axis, and so on. Look up "atomic orbitals" in Wikipedia to see some pictures of all of them.

2) "How to explain/show what that element is for?" The short answer is "nothing." The longest-lived known isotope, 293Lv, only lives for 61 ms, so it doesn't make compounds or materials you can see. It is merely the latest in a curiosity-driven question to understand just how big an atom can be.

Is there an upper limit, beyond which atomic nuclei cannot hold together at all? Can these super-heavy nuclei give us insight into the conditions at the cores of stars, or neutron stars, where nucleons are packed together by the trillions of trillions?

3) "How to display the dynamics of molecules, atoms, electrons, protons, etc." Molecules can legitimately be represented by balls of different sizes, stuck together.

The electrons around atoms are intrinsically quantum mechanically, and ought not be represented as "little balls going around." The probability clouds I mentioned above are the best representation.

Protons are made up of quarks and gluons, also in highly-relativisitic probability clouds. You can represent a proton (e.g., a hydrogen nucleus) as a little ball, if you're working on lengths scales much larger than the proton's size (~1 fm). But the structure of the proton is analogous to the electron clouds in an atom.

4) "what machines does a scientist use to discover new elements?" The large collaborations at LBNL, GSI, and JINR use a variety of instruments. Large particle accelerators are used to produce beams of fully ionized atomic nuclei (typically calcium), which are aimed to strike a target of extremely heavy nuclei, themselves often artificially produced, such as californium, or curium in the case of the Lv discovery.

When the beam and target nuclei collide, once in a long while they stick together, forming a short-lived ultraheavy nucleus. As that nucleus decays, different kinds of detectors will capture and measure the energy of the decay products (alpha particles, gamma rays, electrons [beta particles], and neutrons). An ultraheavy nucleus will decay to a slightly lighter daughter, whch decays, and so on and so on.

Each decay has a characteristic, unique energy, and so the pattern of energies and time intervals can be used to connect known decays with the new decays of newly created elements.

How about a labyrinth, something like the Chartres pattern below?

Lay it out in plain white slabs, with coloured slabs inserted to represent electrons, with different-coloured slabs at the centre representing protons and neutrons?

Maybe dome the coloured slabs?

Maybe make them solar-powered, so that they light up in their different colours in the dark?

If you're really clever, and have the budget, you could have the entire path covered in a lot of solar lights, which flicker on and off to represent the idea that we cannot know exactly where they are all the time...