Inside the atom: school resources

Particle and nuclear physicists study the building blocks of the universe and the forces of nature that influence them. Their research is fundamental to our understanding of the physical world around us.

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STFC offers teaching resources to support physics education.

Here we have also collected a selection of interesting and interactive resources such as websites, films, animations, apps, publications and guides. These are suitable for a wide range of audiences and can be used in the classroom or for background reading.


A selection of videos to support your teaching of ‘inside the atom’-related subjects:

  • In Search of Giants, 15 short films from STFC starring Professor Brian Cox as he takes us on a journey discussing interesting facts about particle physics
  • Just how small is an atom?, a TED-Ed video and lesson plan
  • The basics of the Higgs boson, a TED-Ed video and lesson plan
  • Colliding Particles, a series of films following one team of physicists involved in the research at the LHC, exploring the human stories behind the research and investigating the workings of the scientific process itself
  • Radioactivity: Expect the unexpected, this TED-Ed lesson explains radioactivity and how it can be both dangerous and useful.

Classroom activities

Teaching radioactivity provides a number of teaching resources developed by the Institute of Physics to support the teaching of radioactivity, and to give students a more authentic and engaging experience of ionising radiations and subatomic particles

Physics kits have been developed at Queen Mary University of London for students and teachers to use LEGO® to illustrate physics concepts such as fission, fusion and the structure of nuclei. The lesson plans, activity sheets and booklets cover curriculum linked topics in nuclear physics.

More resources are available at:

Opportunities for students

Masterclasses are one-day events hosted by particle and nuclear physics groups at universities and laboratories across the country.

UK physicists also give outreach talks which are aimed at a wide variety of audiences including students.

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Curriculum links

‘Inside the atom’ links to the physics curriculum through a number of topics.

Particle model of matter

Starting with the atom and the discovery of the atomic nucleus, then delving deeper into the fundamental particles and forces, the ‘standard model’, not only teaches students about the nature of matter, but also the nature of science.

How methods and theories develop, as earlier explanations are modified to take account of new evidence and ideas.

Radioactivity and ionising radiation

These topics provide great opportunities for practical physics, for example, by using a model of vibrating atoms. You can explore the types and range of ionising radiation, as well as mathematical studies of probability and statistics through the random nature of radioactive decay.

Examining half-lives can also lead to interesting discussions on the environmental impact of long lived isotopes in radioactive waste and applications in radioactive dating.

Nuclear energy

A great example of how fundamental research into nuclear physics has led to real-world applications, for example, nuclear power stations generate around 20% of the UK’s electricity.

It introduces concepts such as the equivalence of mass and energy to explain how the fission and fusion processes release energy. It can be linked to topics such as renewable versus non-renewable energy resources, low-carbon energy generation and the greenhouse effect.

Medical physics

Everyone will know someone who has benefitted from a medical procedure based on ‘inside the atom’ science, whether they have had a routine X-ray, PET scan or radiotherapy to treat cancer.

These applications of physics can be used to link ‘inside the atom’ to the student’s own life experience and to discuss the positive uses for ionising radiation.

Continuing professional development (CPD) opportunities

There are various organisations providing training opportunities across the UK teaching ‘inside the atom’ related courses at different levels.

STEM Learning runs numerous related courses throughout the year, including a fully funded trip to CERN for state school teachers.

Nuclear Physics Teacher CPD workshops are also run by UK nuclear physicists. Dates appear on nuclear physics masterclasses and outreach events.

Contacts and speakers

Ask about our resources

Contact the STFC particle and nuclear physics outreach officer.


Local contacts

To find out what ‘inside the atom’ activities are going on at your local university, or to arrange a speaker to come to your school, contact your local:

Last updated: 26 July 2022

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