The Board Game


This activity is intended for eight grade science students following an introduction to the composition and structure of matter

Time Frame

Set-up: 5 minutes

Activity: 30 minutes

Clean-up: 5 minutes


After completing the activity, participants will be able to:

  1. Explain how atoms diffuse within solids, within the context of Brass/Bronze alloy formation

  2. Select between two different models for a specified task

  3. Students will be able to give an example or explain why small scale modeling is beneficial to society

Standards Addressed

  • MS-PS1-3. Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society.

  • MS-ETS1-4. Develop a model to generate data for iterative testing and modification of a proposed object, tool, or process such that an optimal design can be achieved.

  • MS-PS1-1. Develop models to describe the atomic composition of simple molecules and extended structures.

Engineering principles

ETS2.A: Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology

    Students will engage with an extrapolation of a tool used by the computational materials science group to play a game simulating the inter-diffusion of atoms within an alloy.

Activity Materials

  • One copy of the Diffusion! Board game per every 2 students

  • One die per copy of Diffusion!

  • One pack of element cards printed per copy of Diffusion!

  • Four packs of markers (20 markers per pack) per game board

    1. Markers can be made from just about anything that will fit the board, but ideally are either

      1. Flattened glass marbles painted to resemble metal

      2. Candy of four different colors, 20 pieces per color (skittles, M&M's, etc)

  • Two markers (Turn and Temperature) per game, these can be anything similar in size to a glass marble or a penny

Activity Instructions


Boards and element cards will need to be printed ahead of time, and element cards cut out for each game.

Markers must be obtained and if candy is being used possibly sorted ahead of time into different color groups. If students are bringing candy have them bring it the day before and get it sorted into four different colors to save time on the day of the activity

Introduction (5 min)

An introduction to computational materials science, atomistic modeling and diffusion! should be done the day before.

The rules of the game and how to play it should be introduced to the class the day before, covering what the game looks like and how it should be played. The game should be set up and a few example turns should be played out with a volunteer on a document viewer in order for students to fully understand the game. On the day the game is played, give students a brief 5 minute refresher on how the game is played, and remind them that the rule handout is available.

The Next Part of the Activity (30 min)

    Students will play one to two games of Diffusion! with a partner, modeling the diffusion of different elements with copper at an atomistic scale. Consider suggesting playing as Iron to only specific students, as very little diffusion occurs between these elements in the game or in real life and it may prove frustrating. Ask students to record their scores for each game, including how many pieces scored in each range along with their element (I.E. 3 copper atoms for 1 point, 1 copper atom for 2 points, 1 copper atom for 3 points, etc). Students will be filling out the attached worksheet as they play the game, which tasks them with recording how their pieces were scored, and how many pieces made it how far. The digital version of the game may be left playing itself on the screen during this portion of the activity to connect the game with the simulation of materials.

The Third Part of the Activity (5 min)

Students will enter data into the prepared spreadsheet on the computer hooked up to the projector, allowing information to be obtained on what kind of movements and diffusion were obtained from each different element on the game board.

Conclusion (5-10m min)

Discuss with the students what the graphs tell them about the inter-diffusion occurring in the metals, and what this means in relation to the metals. Relate this information to real world computational materials science, and show students the connection with the game being played on the projector earlier in the lesson. It was able to simulate numerous games, far more than the students were able to play on their own.


How will you assess your activity?

    1. Describe, in your own words, how atoms move in two metals when they are touching and you heat them

    2. If you were trying to demonstrate to someone how atoms diffuse in a material, would you show them a computer simulation or would you make a drawing? Why? What about if you were trying to prove that you could make an alloy before producing it?

    3. What are some situations that you can think of where it may be useful to model the behavior of atoms on small scales?

    4. Did Copper and Zinc mix more readily than Copper and Tin? Why (according to the rules of the game)? If you got to Iron what did you see happen?

    5. Was the computer simulation able to complete more games of Diffusion than the class? Why may this be beneficial?


Students will have spent 2 days discussing modeling and alloys prior to this activity. They will have completed the first half of the Brass/Bronze penny activity, and were told to think about what will happen to the pennies when they are heated. Students have a basic understanding of the composition of matter, but are unfamiliar with terms such as proton, neutron or electron. Students have had some experience using models or creating models to explain natural phenomena.

Supplemental Materials

  • Diffusion!

    • Rules for diffusion!.doc

    • Diffusion_game_board.jpg

    • Diffusion Questions.doc

    • Diffusion! Element cards.pdf

    • Scoring Sheet.doc

  • If so, list the document names here and make sure to email the files to Ben at bltaylor2@wisc.edu.


Ben Shrago

MRSEC IEG Leadership Team: Ben Taylor, Tam Mayasheba, Dane Morgan, The UW CMG group, 2013 UW MRSEC RET cohort, and Anne Lynn Gillian-Daniel.