PK – grade 3: All objects are made of even smaller objects called atoms. It’s like building a big castle out of small blocks, you can think of the small blocks as the atoms that make up the bigger object which is the castle. Atoms have little things in them that you can’t see called electrons, protons, and neutrons. The protons and neutrons are clustered together in a tiny ball with the electrons circling that ball. The way that electrons circle around an atom is similar to a fly flying around your head. They can have different orbits, depending on how much energy they have. These electrons like to jump up and down when they are given energy from being put in fire, just like how a person likes to jump up and down when they are put on a trampoline. However, when an electron jumps up and down, it lights up in excitement just like a firefly. The mist that comes out of the spray bottle is made up of atoms that have those electrons and when you spray them into the flame, you are exiting the electrons and causing them to light up as they jump up and down. You may not realize it, but every time that you watch fireworks, you are seeing this process happen. The color of the light of the fireworks represent different atoms being excited. This activity meets the following NGSS: 1-PS4-2 Objects can be seen if light is available to illuminate them or if they give off their own light. 2-PS1-4 Heating or cooling a substance may cause changes that can be observed.
Grade 4 – 6: In the spray bottles, there are little particles called metal salts. Metal salts consist of atoms that contain electrons, protons, and neutrons. The protons and neutrons are clustered together in a tiny ball called the nucleus with the electrons circling the nucleus. One of these metal salts may be familiar, it is the same salt that people put on their food to give it flavor. This salt is also called sodium chloride because it is made up of a sodium metal atom and a chlorine atom. Sodium and chlorine are two elements in the periodic table. Like a couch potato, electrons like to rest in an orbit of a particular distance away from the nucleus and when resting electrons are given a source of energy like heat from a flame, they jump up into an excited state which has a larger distance from the nucleus and then come back down to rest. It is like a person bouncing a ball. The person is the energy source like the flame and the ball is the electron. The ball is resting on the ground until a person comes by to bounce it, giving it energy. The ball bounces up high, then comes back down to the ground and stops bouncing. When electrons are given energy from heat, they jump up high and then they give back that energy as they come back down to rest. The energy they give back is in the form of light. By spraying the salts into a flame, this same process is taking place. You may not realize it, but every time that you watch fireworks, you are seeing this process happen. The color of the light of the fireworks represent different atoms being excited. Green, red, purple, and orange light are given off when boron, lithium, potassium, and sodium ions, respectively, are excited. This activity meets the following NGSS: 4-PS3-2 & 4-PS3-3 Energy can be moved from place to place by moving objects or through sound, light, or electric currents. 4-PS3-2 & 4-PS3-3 Energy is present whenever there are moving objects, sound, light, or heat. 4-PS3-2 Light also transfers energy from place to place. 5-PS1-3 Measurements of a variety of properties can be used to identify materials. MS-PS3–5 Energy may take different forms (e.g., energy in fields, thermal energy, energy of motion).
Middle school: Atoms contain electrons, protons, and neutrons. The protons and neutrons are clustered together in a tiny ball called the nucleus with the electrons circling the nucleus. An element is a collection of atoms that have the same number of protons in their nucleus. Atoms on the left side of the periodic table are metals and readily lose an electron to become charged atoms called ions. Each spray bottle contains a compound with a different metal ion. When the metal ion is sprayed into a thermal energy source like a flame, the electrons in the metal leave their initial energy level and are raised to a higher energy level. Electrons can’t stay in a higher energy level for too long, so in order to come back down, they give back a discrete amount of energy. The type of energy that they give back is light energy. The amount of energy they give back determines the color of light because each color of light is associated with a specific energy amount. Also, every atom has its own unique light color that it gives off which is why we see different colors when we spray the flames with the different metals. You are seeing this happen when watch a fireworks. The color of the light of the fireworks represent different atoms being excited. Green, red, purple, and orange light are given off when boron, lithium, potassium, and sodium ions, respectively, are excited. This activity meets the following NGSS: MS-PS1-3 Each pure substance has characteristic physical and chemical properties that can be used to identify it. MS-PS1-4 The term “heat” as used in everyday language refers both to thermal energy (the motion of atoms or molecules within a substance) and the transfer of that thermal energy from one object to another. MS-PS4-2 When light shines on an object, it is reflected, absorbed, or transmitted through the object, depending on the object’s material and the frequency (color) of the light.
College-level scientific description: All atoms have electrons traveling around their nucleus in what is called orbitals. These orbitals are areas around an atom in which the electrons have the highest probability of being found. There are many different orbitals found within an atom and each orbital has its own specific energy level associated with it. Provided enough energy, electrons can go up in energy levels. However, electrons prefer to be in lower energy levels and as a result, they fall back down to their lower energy levels. When this process happens, electrons emit electromagnetic radiation (light) with energy that is proportional to the difference in energy levels that the electron has traveled. Furthermore, each element has its