Rutherford's Enlarged: A Content-Embedded Activity to Teach about Nature of Science

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This paper describes a working-model demonstration of Ernest Rutherford's 1911 experiment about the nature of atoms. In this demonstration, a model of an atom is constructed inside a sealed cardboard box. Ping-pong balls are fired into (and sometimes through) the box to determine the structure of the atom. Like Rutherford's experiment, this demonstration shows that atoms are mostly empty space. Use this demonstration as an opportunity to discuss the nature of science.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Demonstration, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • A large cardboard box (side = 45cm)
  • Masking tape
  • Box cutter
  • Sharp pencil
  • About 5m of thin wire
  • Paper clips
  • Two 45cm glass rods
  • Several Styrofoam or wooden balls
  • Ping-Pong gun and balls (available at toy stores)
  • Butcher paper or greaseproof paper


  • Physical Sciences
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Atomic Structure
      • Elementary Particles and Nuclear Physics
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • The Scientific Worldview
      • About Inquiry
      • Asking Questions
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Historical Reenactment
  • Model Building


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access


  • Abd-El-Khalick, Fouad


  • All rights reserved, IOP Publishing Ltd, 2002