Periodic Table of Elements

Advanced Chemistry Students Leave Legacy For Future Generations


It is 1:15 p.m.  The hallways of Pana High School are quiet with 7th hour classes in full swing.  If you were to take a bird’s eye view into the STEM Production Lab, you would hear a soft whir of fans from the eight 3D printers and see pairs of students learning how to feed PLA filament (or plastic cord) into the devices.  This would be the first session of many spent utilizing new software and hardware to make a design prototype into reality.  Mr. Cothern’s Advanced Chemistry students were tasked with a collaborative project in three phases: manufacture a complete set of labeled  blocks that would merge into an interactive Periodic Table.  

Students in this dual-credit class began Phase One by using online CAD 3D printing software.  Each student was given specific dimensions and asked to design a block that would house a magnet in the back.  The trick to the design was to construct a block that had a recessed circular opening in the back, a skill that can be difficult to master for student’s operating CAD software.  Once all design prototypes were printed, the class voted on one to act as a standard model to use for the completion of the project.

Phase Two involved the use of the Ender 5 Pro 3D Printers and Cura software.  Students learned to “slice” their design, a process that would tell the printers how many layers to print, how quickly to move, and when to build supports to strengthen the design.  The colors were chosen based on student preference to represent various element categories such as alkali metals, halogens, and noble gases. After loading the printers with the plastic material known as filament, students forged ahead by making a total of 118 printed blocks, one for each of the elements.  

Phase Three required students to switch machines and software.  Using Cricut Design Studio, they created each element (with its atomic number, mass, symbol, and name) piece by piece and then welded those details together before duplicating the process over again.  Once completed, the design was cut from white adhesive vinyl using the Cricut machine.  The hardest task would follow: it was quite a meticulous job when it came to weeding out the small dots on the “i” as well as the decimal points in the atomic mass.  The work paid off once students were able to transfer their design to the 3D printed blocks, glue their magnet into the back, and place their finished project into the appropriate spot on the periodic table.

The project not only incorporated technology and engineering into the science classroom, but also gave students a chance to be creative with their ideas.  Junior student Olivia Anderson recounts, “I loved the project.  I got to use my imagination.”  Students also used the design process to alter designs that at first didn’t succeed or meet the required dimensions, a skill that deals with some of the new science learning standards.  The now-finished periodic table will benefit all future science classes.  It can be used to showcase certain formulas and combinations thanks to the magnets that make it mobile and interactive.  Armed with the skills and knowledge of the 3D printing process, who knows what these students will imagine and build next?