Chemical Elements: GENESIS -- What Are We Made of?
A photo showing a clear storage bin with colorful beads all sitting on top of a table

Featured Lesson(s)

GENESIS: What Are We Made of? The Sun, Earth, and You




Essential Question

How are the elements in the sun determined?


Genesis was one of NASA’s Discovery missions. Its purpose was to observe the solar wind, collect its ions and return them to Earth. "What Are We Made Of?" is a student activity in the "Cosmic Chemistry: Understanding Elements" Genesis science module. During this activity, students study the chemical elements of the sun and learn about the essential building blocks for everything that exists in the universe, including planets like Earth, and even the human body. By counting elements extracted from a simulated sample, students learn how the extraction of atoms from the Genesis samples helped scientists have a better understanding of the abundance of elements from the solar wind. The hands-on experience helps students discover that the elemental abundance from the sun can be used as a baseline to compare with the diverse bodies of our solar system.

Additional Resources

  Classroom Resources:


  • Videos for Students:
    • Genesis Mission Overview: The Genesis project manager, Don Sweetnam, reviews the Genesis mission, describes some of the elements of the spacecraft, and explains the science research conducted during and after the mission.
    • Overview of Collector Panel: Genesis project manager Don Sweetnam shows and explains a model of the spacecraft collector panel.
    • Lesson Introduction by Teacher: Watch a teacher introduce this lesson to her class.
    • Interactive Video: Use this video to introduce the lesson to students.
    • Sorting Beads and Results Discussion: Observe students engaged in this activity, and then discussing the investigation results and sharing their ideas for improving the data.
    • Teacher Testimonial: Listen to a Los Angeles-area middle school teacher discuss where this activity fits into the curriculum and its value to student understanding.



  Related NASA Now Events:

  Connection to NASA:

  Extension Activities:

Professional Development

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Lesson Information

Subject(s) Covered:

 • Physical science • Mathematics

Topic(s) Covered:

 • Properties and Changes of Properties in Matter • Data Analysis and Probability (Standard: Develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data)

Activity Type:

 Student investigation

Grade Level:


Instructional Objective:

 Students will understand that elements are the basic building blocks of everything found on Earth and in space. Students will gain facility creating graphs from data they generate.

Time to Complete the Activity:

 One to two 45 minute classes

  Materials Needed:

  -- 1000-4000 pony beads
  -- Clear plastic container
  -- Small plastic cup/condiment cup for each group or student
  -- Colored pencils or markers
  -- Periodic table of the elements
  -- Cardboard box lids or cafeteria trays
  -- Student activity sheets

   National Content Standards:



  • 21st Century Outcome: Learning and Innovation Skills
  • 21st Century Element: Critical Thinking and Problem Solving
  • 21st Century Skill: Make Judgments and Decisions


  • Math Content Area: Data Analysis and Probability
  • Math Standard: Develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data



  • Science Content Area: Physical Science
  • Science Standard: Properties and changes of properties in matter