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It’s the start of a new school year in America! I thought I’d do an educational post to celebrate. Today’s post is all about elements. Elements make up everything in the universe and they are arranged on the periodic table into groups with similar properties. Each element is represented by one or two letters (chemical symbol) and has some information about it. Here is carbon for example.
Elements are made up of just one kind of atom. Atoms are made up of three types of particles. Protons and neutrons in the center (nucleus) and electrons that orbit around them.
The chocolate parts of this cookie represent the positively charged protons and the vanilla ones represent the uncharged neutrons. The blue M&Ms are the negatively charged electrons. The elements are listed in order of the number of protons (atomic number) they have. This is important because the number of protons an atom has determines what element it is. The number of neutrons in an atom is not always the same. The atomic mass is the average weight of the nucleus. Carbon, for example has an atomic mass of 12.01 because most atoms have 6 neutrons and 6 protons, however a small percentage have 7 neutrons and 6 protons or 8 neutrons and 6 protons and that brings the average mass to 12.01. Over time the carbon atoms with an atomic mass of 14 will lose 2 neutrons. Looking at this picture I realized I only have 5 protons instead of 6, but let’s pretend one is behind it! The idea here is to show the neutrons breaking off of the carbon atom. Scientists can use this loss of neutrons to figure out how old animal and plant remains are. One example of this is carbon dating.
Carbon with an atomic mass of 14 is present in the air and living plants and animals continuously incorporate it into their bodies when they are alive. After they die, no more new carbon 14 atoms will be added to the body and what is there will slowly decay to carbon 12. It takes 5,730 years for half of the carbon 14 to decay. Scientists use this information to find out how long ago a plant or animal was alive. This is what is known as carbon dating.
Where do elements come from?
You may wonder, how are elements made? They are formed in stars. Massive objects like stars have a lot of gravity that pushes in and holds them together. This force fuses hydrogen atoms together to make helium atoms. Nuclear fusion creates a lot of energy and this force pushes out on the star. The star has a dynamic equilibrium that keeps it the same size. In very massive stars other elements are made, but the heaviest one that can be made is iron. The star looks like an onion with layers of element production.
Nuclear Fusion in a Star
Iron only has an atomic number of 26, so how are the other elements made? They are formed by a process called neutron capture when the star explodes (super nova) at the end of it’s life. I used cotton acrylic blend Comfy Worsted Yarn for both the doll and the blanket. Not only is this yarn soft, it can be washed and put in the dryer which is really important when you make things for babies! You can find instructions on how to make stars and circles in this post.
Here is the recipe for the element cookies. I’ve slightly changed it from the recipe found in the Land O’ Lakes holiday cookbook from 1999.
3/4 cup butter, softened
2/3 cup sugar
1 tsp vanilla
1/4 tsp almond extract (you could leave this out if you are worried about allergies)
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 tsp baking powder
1/4 tsp salt
~1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chips
Once you have made the dough, break it into two pieces making one a bit smaller than the other. Add melted chocolate chips to the smaller piece of dough and kneed it in. Refrigerate the dough for about an hour. Heat oven to 325 F. Roll the dough into balls to form the protons and neutrons. You just need to have them touching each other on the cookie sheet and they will bake into a nucleus. Bake cookies for 12-16 minutes. I usually wait a few minutes after I take the cookies out of the oven to take them off the sheet so they don’t fall apart – you don’t want your cookies to undergo nuclear fission even though these will not give off any energy! I drew a circles on a piece of parchment paper and then added the electrons to the orbits after the cookies came out of the oven. Different numbers of electrons occupy the different orbits (shells) around the nucleus. The first shell can have up to 2 electrons, the second can have up to 8, and the third can have up to 18. In general the number of electron in each shell is:
2n2 electrons where, n is the number of shell
You can package these up with the candy electrons and a label for the different types of elements. periodicTableLabels I used other chocolate candies for these instead of M&Ms because these were going to a school. Even plain M&Ms are not nut free because their candy shells have peanuts in them.
The printout above also has an ingredient list in it.
General instructions for crocheting shapes like stars and circles used in the star blanket can be found in this post.
For other science craft and activity ideas you can look at my Big Hero 6 party board on Pinterest or search for STEAM on this blog.