My oldest son just finished studying matter in science. After school I was talking to him about what he learned about matter. I asked him if he had learned what shape the molecules made. He wasn’t sure, and I told him it depended on the type of material. For example, metal molecules arrange differently than plastic molecules. In my material science class in college, we learned about different kinds of molecular structures of metals. I looked around to see what we could use, and found the perfect supplies for a quick material science activity for my son!
Material Science Activity – Building a Molecular Structure
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Conversation with my son
Me: Do you know what a metal is?
Him: Yes. Cars and some of dad’s tools are made of metal.
Me: Exactly! Do you remember what you learned about molecules, and where they are?
Him: Yeah. Molecules are in everything!
Me: Right. Everything is made of molecules. Did you know that molecules make special shapes for each kind of material?
Him: Kind of…I remember my Tinker Crate once said something was linked like paper clips…
Me: Right! Molecules of polymers, or plastics, link together like a chain of paper clips. Do you know what shape metal bond in?
Me: Well, let me show you!
Body Centered Cubic
Body Centered Cubic is one of the shapes metal molecules form. In this shape, the molecules bond, or stick together, in the shape of a cube, with one molecule in the middle of the cube.
Now, I’d like you to build a Body Centered Cubic molecular shape with the cranberries and toothpicks!
He got right to work, and put the cube together pretty quickly!
But he struggled to find a way to support the the molecule in the middle of cube.
After a word of encouragement from Mom, he figured it out!
Face Centered Cubic is another molecular shape for metals . In this shape, the molecules stick together in the shape of a cube, and have one molecule on each face of the cube.
He removed the center molecule of the cube he just made, and added molecules to all of the faces of the cube.
After he finished building, my son and I talked about our material science activity. We discussed the differences between the two shapes. He noticed that when the molecules were on the face of the cube, there was no molecule in the center of the cube.
I also asked him to compare the metal molecular structure to the polymer structure. He said they’re very different! My response? And metals and polymers also “act” very different because of their very different molecular structures!
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