Modeling an HIV Particle

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This activity helps learners visualize the Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) by constructing three-dimensional HIV particle models from paper. The model to be used is a 20-sided polyhedron (icosahedron) and represents a complete viral particle. Learners combine their finished models into one mass. This is a first step toward estimating how many HIV particles could be contained inside a white blood cell before being released into the blood stream to attack new cells.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
1 to 2 hours

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per student

Age Range:
Ages 8 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per student)

  • Modeling an HIV Particle sheet printed on white card stock paper (p.5 of PDF)
  • Scissors
  • Cellophane tape
  • Metric ruler with straight edge
  • Fine point ballpoint pen with which to score cardstock before folding (felt- or gel-tipped pens are not appropriate)
  • Colored markers or pencils for coloring the models (not crayons)


  • Life Sciences
    • Cells
      • Cell Structure and Function
      • Cell Division
    • Diversity of Life
      • Viruses and Bacteria
    • Human Body
      • Health and Nutrition
      • Immune System
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
      • Units of Measurement
      • Size and Scale
      • Circles

Informal Categories

  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Components that are part of this resource:

Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Vogt, Ed.D., Gregory L. ; Moreno, Ph.D., Nancy P.


  • All rights reserved, Baylor College of Medicine, 2011

Funding Source:

  • Science Education Partnership Award from the National Center for Research Resources (NCRR) of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), 5R25 RR018605