Rutherford Roller

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In this activity, learners make a black box device that serves as an excellent analogy to Rutherford's famous experiment in which he deduced the existence of the atomic nucleus. Learners roll marbles under a sheet of cardboard to find the location and shape of an object hidden underneath. This resource also contains an optional pre-activity that familiarizes learners with how marbles roll and bounce off of other objects.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$1 - $5 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 14 - 18

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Simulation


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 4-5 film cans
  • Glue (hot glue)
  • Cardboard (or masonite) - at least at least 16" by 16"
  • Rulers
  • Marbles
  • Various shaped pieces of wood or other material
  • Velcro (optional)
  • PVC pipe (optional)
  • Butcher paper (optional)


  • Mathematics
    • Data Analysis and Probability
      • Data Analysis
      • Data Collection
      • Data Representation
      • Probability
    • Geometry
      • Plane Geometry
    • Reasoning and Proof
    • Representation
  • The Nature of Technology
    • The Design Process
      • Problem Solving
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure
      • Elementary Particles and Nuclear Physics
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations
      • Gathering Data

Informal Categories

  • Toys


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Muller, Eric


  • All rights reserved, Exploratorium, 2003