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written by the Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory
supported by the U.S. Department of Energy
This interactive science module introduces students to the basic structure of matter, including atoms, ions, elements, and molecules. Animations and simulations help learners to visualize atomic/molecular structure and build a foundation to understand electron sharing. Real data from plasma physics research can be used to further explore the basic properties of matter. Students will apply their learning in a density lab where they predict and test which objects sink and which float.

This resource is part of the Interactive Plasma Physics Education Experience (IPPEX), a project developed to allow students and teachers to participate remotely in scientific research at the nation's largest fusion energy laboratory. See Related Items for a link to the IPPEX home page.

Please note that this resource requires Shockwave.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
General Physics
- Properties of Matter
Modern Physics
- Atomic Physics
= Atomic Models
= Electron Properties
- Plasma Physics
- High School
- Middle School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
= Tutorial
- Reference Material
- Audio/Visual
= Movie/Animation
Intended Users Formats Ratings
- Learners
- Educators
- application/shockwave
- image/gif
- text/html
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Access Rights:
Limited free access
Use restricted to noncommercial, educational, or scientific purposes only.
© 2001 Princeton Plasma Physics Lab, Department of Energy Contract DE-AC03-76CH03073;
atomic structure, fusion, molecular structure, molecular structure, states of matter, virtual experiments
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created November 30, 2010 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
July 8, 2012 by Lyle Barbato
Last Update
when Cataloged:
November 29, 2010
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

11. Common Themes

11B. Models
  • 6-8: 11B/M1. Models are often used to think about processes that happen too slowly, too quickly, or on too small a scale to observe directly. They are also used for processes that are too vast, too complex, or too dangerous to study.

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (1993 Version)


D. The Structure of Matter
  • 4D (6-8) #1.  All matter is made up of atoms, which are far too small to see directly through a microscope. The atoms of any element are alike but are different from atoms of other elements. Atoms may stick together in well-defined molecules or may be packed together in large arrays. Different arrangements of atoms into groups compose all substances.
  • 4D (6-8) #3.  Atoms and molecules are perpetually in motion. Increased temperature means greater average energy, so most substances expand when heated. In solids, the atoms are closely locked in position and can only vibrate. In liquids, the atoms or molecules have higher energy, are more loosely connected, and can slide past one another; some molecules may get enough energy to escape into a gas. In gases, the atoms or molecules have still more energy and are free of one another except during occasional collisions.
  • 4D (9-12) #1.  Atoms are made of a positive nucleus surrounded by negative electrons. An atom's electron configuration, particularly the outermost electrons, determines how the atom can interact with other atoms. Atoms form bonds to other atoms by transferring or sharing electrons.
  • 4D (9-12) #2.  The nucleus, a tiny fraction of the volume of an atom, is composed of protons and neutrons, each almost two thousand times heavier than an electron. The number of positive protons in the nucleus determines what an atom's electron configuration can be and so defines the element. In a neutral atom, the number of electrons equals the number of protons. But an atom may acquire an unbalanced charge by gaining or losing electrons.


B. Models
  • 11B (6-8) #3.  Different models can be used to represent the same thing. What kind of a model to use and how complex it should be depends on its purpose. The usefulness of a model may be limited if it is too simple or if it is needlessly complicated. Choosing a useful model is one of the instances in which intuition and creativity come into play in science, mathematics, and engineering.
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Record Link
AIP Format
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, (2001), WWW Document, (
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, IPPEX Online: Interactive Matter Module (2001), <>.
APA Format
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. (2010, November 29). IPPEX Online: Interactive Matter Module. Retrieved July 12, 2024, from
Chicago Format
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. IPPEX Online: Interactive Matter Module. November 29, 2010. (accessed 12 July 2024).
MLA Format
Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory. IPPEX Online: Interactive Matter Module. 2001. 29 Nov. 2010. U.S. Department of Energy. 12 July 2024 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Author = "Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory", Title = {IPPEX Online: Interactive Matter Module}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {12 July 2024}, Month = {November 29, 2010}, Year = {2001} }
Refer Export Format

%Q Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory %T IPPEX Online: Interactive Matter Module %D November 29, 2010 %U %O application/shockwave

EndNote Export Format

%0 Electronic Source %A Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, %D November 29, 2010 %T IPPEX Online: Interactive Matter Module %V 2024 %N 12 July 2024 %8 November 29, 2010 %9 application/shockwave %U

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Citation Source Information

The AIP Style presented is based on information from the AIP Style Manual.

The APA Style presented is based on information from APA Electronic References.

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IPPEX Online: Interactive Matter Module:

Is Part Of Interactive Plasma Physics Education Experience

A link to the home page of IPPEX, which contains a game-like fusion reaction simulator and an interctive tutorial on the process of fusion.

relation by Caroline Hall

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