ATP Molecule

Model of ATP Molecule

Activity for students who are blind or visually impaired to create an ATP Molecule model.

The concept of the relationship between structure and function in living organisms from the smallest level of organization (the cell) to tissues, organs and organ systems is foundational in the study of life science.  Providing accurate models to students with visual impairment is essential in building this connection between structure and function. 

The model described is of a molecule of ATP (adenosine triphosphate)  which is the energy currency of the cell because it provides energy for the cell’s activities.  Understanding the structure of this molecule leads to a clear understanding of the manner in which it provides needed energy to the cell.

This model was created by Adele Hauser, one of the artists with whom I have collaborated (See blog Collaboration of TVI with artist )

Amazingly, she created the model and wrote the directions in less than an hour!



Build an ATP Model

  1. First, build your five-carbon sugar, RIBOSE.  Use five Popsicle sticks, and hot glue them into a pentagon.  Then, hot glue cotton balls on each corner of  the shape.
  2. Next, build the base, ADENINE.  This is going to look like one pentagon and one hexagon stuck together on one side.  Make a pentagon out of five Popsicle sticks, just like you did for the RIBOSE.  Then, build a hexagon with 5 more Popsicle sticks, sharing one side with the first.  Your final ADENINE should look like a figure 8.
  3. Now, glue a pipe cleaner to each of two corners of your RIBOSE (the pentagon with cotton balls).  Connect one of these pipe cleaners to a corner of your ADENINE.
  4. Finally, build the unstable phosphate “tail”.  For this, string three Styrofoam balls onto another pipe cleaner, and attach the chain to the other pipe cleaner on the RIBOSE.

Click here to download this procedure.


When teaching the class about the function of ATP as the energy currency of cells, pass around the model.  Allow students to find the phosphate groups (styrofoam balls). Describe the phosphate groups as negatively charged

Ask:   What would happen if two negatively charged groups are close to each other? (They would repel each other.)

Describe this portion of the molecule as like a spring.  Show the students a large spring and pass it around. 

Have each students remove one of the phosphate groups and replace it as they pretend to be filled with energy.   (Define as ATP)


When I have time, I allow students to build the model.  If not, I provide them with the model as we discuss cellular respiration and ATP.

NGSS Standards:

By Laura Hospitál

Collage of model of ATP molecule

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