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Students will have fun constructing simple molecules with this simulation, while also gaining insight about how to read molecular formulas. Click and drag atoms to see which ones bond to form diatomic molecules (composed of a pair of the same element.) Drag different atoms into the field to build a more complex molecule composed of different elements. After a molecule is built, it can be viewed in 3D models.

Editor's Note: This resource is appropriate for grades 6-12, with teacher adaptation. Basic concepts of molecular structure should be comprehensible in the middle grades. Students will recognize that the subscript in the molecular formula indicates the number of that atom in the molecule, and the coefficient indicates the total number of molecules. High school teachers may wish to introduce covalent bonding and electron sharing.  

This item is part of a larger collection of simulations developed by the Physics Education Technology project (PhET).

Please note that this resource requires Java Applet Plug-in.
Subjects Levels Resource Types
Education Practices
- Active Learning
= Modeling
Modern Physics
- Atomic Physics
= Atomic Models
Other Sciences
- Chemistry
- High School
- Middle School
- Lower Undergraduate
- Instructional Material
= Activity
= Interactive Simulation
Intended Users Formats Ratings
- Learners
- Educators
- application/java
- text/html
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Free access with registration
All PhET simulations are freely available; teacher-contributed supplemental materials are accessible only to registered users. Registration is free.
This material is released under a Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 license. Additional information is available.
Rights Holder:
University of Colorado at Boulder
chemical bond, diatomic, molecule, molecule simulation, structure of molecules
Record Cloner:
Metadata instance created June 27, 2011 by Caroline Hall
Record Updated:
December 13, 2017 by Caroline Hall
Last Update
when Cataloged:
March 3, 2008
Other Collections:

AAAS Benchmark Alignments (2008 Version)

4. The Physical Setting

4D. The Structure of Matter
  • 6-8: 4D/M1a. All matter is made up of atoms, which are far too small to see directly through a microscope.
  • 6-8: 4D/M1b. The atoms of any element are like other atoms of the same element, but are different from the atoms of other elements.
  • 6-8: 4D/M1cd. Atoms may link together in well-defined molecules, or may be packed together in crystal patterns. Different arrangements of atoms into groups compose all substances and determine the characteristic properties of substances.
  • 9-12: 4D/H7a. Atoms often join with one another in various combinations in distinct molecules or in repeating three-dimensional crystal patterns.
  • 9-12: 4D/H7b. An enormous variety of biological, chemical, and physical phenomena can be explained by changes in the arrangement and motion of atoms and molecules.
  • 9-12: 4D/H8. The configuration of atoms in a molecule determines the molecule's properties. Shapes are particularly important in how large molecules interact with others.

10. Historical Perspectives

10F. Understanding Fire
  • 9-12: 10F/H3. In the early 1800s, British chemist and physicist John Dalton united the concepts of atoms and elements. He proposed two ideas that laid the groundwork for modern chemistry: first, that elements are formed from small, indivisible particles called atoms, which are identical for a given element but different from any other element; and second, that chemical compounds are formed from atoms by combining a definite number of each type of atom to form one molecule of the compound.

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.
  • 6-8: 11B/M4. Simulations are often useful in modeling events and processes.
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AIP Format
(PhET, Boulder, 2008), WWW Document, (
PhET Simulation: Build a Molecule (PhET, Boulder, 2008), <>.
APA Format
PhET Simulation: Build a Molecule. (2008, March 3). Retrieved July 23, 2024, from PhET:
Chicago Format
PhET. PhET Simulation: Build a Molecule. Boulder: PhET, March 3, 2008. (accessed 23 July 2024).
MLA Format
PhET Simulation: Build a Molecule. Boulder: PhET, 2008. 3 Mar. 2008. 23 July 2024 <>.
BibTeX Export Format
@misc{ Title = {PhET Simulation: Build a Molecule}, Publisher = {PhET}, Volume = {2024}, Number = {23 July 2024}, Month = {March 3, 2008}, Year = {2008} }
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%T PhET Simulation: Build a Molecule %D March 3, 2008 %I PhET %C Boulder %U %O application/java

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%0 Electronic Source %D March 3, 2008 %T PhET Simulation: Build a Molecule %I PhET %V 2024 %N 23 July 2024 %8 March 3, 2008 %9 application/java %U

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PhET Simulation: Build a Molecule:

Is Required By PhET Teacher Activities: Molecules Are Made Up of Atoms

A turn-key set of lesson materials for introducing the simulation Build A Molecule in the middle school classroom.

relation by Caroline Hall

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