A National Chemistry Week outreach project Periodic Table of LEGO®

Want to do something inspiring for National Chemistry Week (NCW) in October? How about building a periodic table made of LEGO? This was the unique challenge undertaken by Thomas Kuntzleman and his colleagues at Spring Arbor University, Spring Arbor, Michigan. This was no small feat and was accomplished at a community outreach event during National Chemistry Week (NCW) in 2011.

Before the event, Tom’s outreach team had to design templates for each element. Then over 6,000 individual building pieces were ordered from various online websites. The pieces were organised into small bags, each with the template and instructions. At the “Halloween in the Science Lab” outreach event at Spring Arbor University, these bags of blocks were distributed to the visiting children and students. With the help of over 200 children and some guidance from volunteers, all 114 elemental tiles were created at the event. Using Velcro strips, these tiles were then assembled into the periodic table (see photo below). This periodic table is now on the wall in the Spring Arbor University Science Center. This special NCW project continues to have an impact on visitors and encourages conversations about the elements.

The team at Spring Arbor University took the project one step further by recruiting high school students to help design special LEGO creations for each element. AP students from Deborah Sayers’s classes from Hardin Valley Academy, Knoxville, Tennessee were enlisted. After the AP Chemistry exam was written, Debbie gave her students an assignment — to create LEGO features to represent each element. Students were free to select any aspect of the element, such as its occurrence, use, properties, history or name. The assignment required a 3 to 5 minute presentation on the reasoning behind these LEGO creations. Together with Spring Arbor University and Hardin Valley Academy, all 114 elemental tiles have at least one unique creation. Pictured below are the krypton tile and the copper tile with LEGO characters. You can try and figure out how these LEGO characters relate to the element. These creations added another opportunity for discussion about the elements and the table itself.

To get a better look, go to the interactive LEGO Periodic Table website. You can click each individual LEGO® tile and learn about the element. Pictured on the next page is the main website page.

Are you inspired and want to create a LEGO periodic table for your school? The September 2013 issue of the Journal of Chemical Education (pages 1346-1348) has a detailed article about the project and its logistics. In the supporting online material, Thomas Kuntzleman et al. have shared the materials developed, such as the 114 element templates, instructional guides and a list of required pieces along with a description on how and where to order the LEGO.

So start building and enjoy National Chemistry Week.

For more information, contact Thomas Kuntzleman, Tom.Kuntzleman@arbor.edu.

Three people posing under LEGO periodic table on wall.

Pictured left to right: Jennifer Kingsley, Charles Schaerer and Kristen Lewis.

Close-up of LEGO Krypton tile in periodic table.

Close-up of LEGO Copper tile in periodic table.

LEGO website periodic table.

Screenshot of the main page for the LEGO periodic table website. Click on an elemental tile to get more information on the element and a closer view of each LEGO creation.