New search
download case
  • Overview
  • Teaching Notes
  • Answer Key
  • Comments/Replies

History of the Atom

From Atomism to the Nuclear Model


Jack F. Eichler
Department of Chemistry
University of California, Riverside


In this clicker case, students are guided through the history of atomic structure, and in the spirit of discovery learning, use data from historical experiments to discern the different models of the atom. In particular, students move from the time of Democritus in the 5th century BCE to the time of Moseley in the early 1900s as they learn how the nuclear model of the atom was developed. Students not only learn about the different models of the atom and how they evolved over time, and about the fundamental particles of matter, but they also engage in higher-order critical thinking. This is accomplished by having the students interpret the data from historical experiments (cathode ray tube, gold foil experiment, etc.) and decide which models of the atom are most appropriate as the interpretable evidence changes over time. This case is designed to be used in a first-semester/first-quarter general chemistry course, and is generally presented to the students in the first two weeks of the course.

  • Learn the fundamental particles that act as the building blocks of mater.
  • Learn about the historical experiments that provided the evidence used to develop the different models of the atom over time.
  • Learn about the pre-quantum model of the atom, and be able to work with concepts such as atomic number and atomic mass.
  • Be able to use data/evidence to arrive at a valid conclusion, in particular by using historical evidence to discover the various models of the atom that were developed over time.
Keywords: Atomic structure; atomic particles; models of the atom; atomic mass; atomic number; Democritus; Dalton; Thompson; Rutherford; Moseley
Topical Area: History of science, Scientific method, Scientific argumentation
Educational Level: High school, Undergraduate lower division
Formats: PDF, PowerPoint
Type/Method: Clicker, Interrupted, Lecture
Language: English
Subject Headings: Chemistry (General)   Science (General)  
Date Posted: 12/7/2012
Date Modified: N/A
Copyright: Copyright held by the National Center for Case Study Teaching in Science, University at Buffalo, State University of New York. Please see our usage guidelines, which outline our policy concerning permissible reproduction of this work.

Teaching Notes

Case teaching notes are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering here.

Teaching notes are intended to help teachers select and adopt a case. They typically include a summary of the case, teaching objectives, information about the intended audience, details about how the case may be taught, and a list of references and resources.

  Download Teaching Notes

Answer Key

Answer keys for the cases in our collection are password-protected and access to them is limited to paid subscribed instructors. To become a paid subscriber, begin the process by registering here.

  Get Answer Key
THANK YOU for posting this case! I hope lots of high school chemistry teachers download and use it as they teach atomic structure! Although I will not be able to use it all at one setting, it will greatly enhance my current unit. I love the questions!

Sharla Dowding
Science Department
Newcastle High School
Newcastle, WY
I hope to use the history of the atom case study with my students in Ireland. The website of case studies is a great idea, thanks for making it available.

Brigid Corrigan
Mount Sackville

City State:
security code
Enter Security Code: