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Paleontological Research Institution


6th, 7th, 8th, 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th


Science, Chemistry, Earth and Space Sciences, Mathematics

Resource Type

  • Worksheets

Regional Focus




Climate Change Toolkit: How Many Molecules Make a Trace Gas?

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  • The purpose of this worksheet is to help students understand that even though carbon dioxide is a "trace gas" in the atmosphere, there are still many molecules of it present, even in a small space like a water bottle.
  • This worksheet addresses the question, "How many molecules of carbon dioxide are in a one-liter bottle of air at standard pressure and temperature?"
Teaching Tips


  • The single calculation in this activity helps students visualize and conceptualize the amount of carbon dioxide molecules present in a given space.
  • Students use real data from the Mauna Loa Observatory to discover carbon dioxide concentrations in the atmosphere and they apply that information to answer the questions.

Additional Prerequisites

  • Students should be familiar with the Ideal Gas Law.
  • Students should be able to solve equations and complete conversions with multiple fractions.
  • Students should be able to plug variables into equations and calculate unknowns using multiplication, division, addition, and subtraction.


  • Consider having students work in pairs if they are intimidated by solving the equation.
  • Bring in a bottle for display. Have students make predictions about the amount of carbon dioxide in the bottle before completing the worksheet.
  • This experiment from the same organization can be used in combination with this calculation worksheet to help students understand the warming effects of carbon dioxide.
  • Additional resources to pair with the lesson are A More Accurate Way to Calculate Emissions and What are Carbon Emissions? (Green Transportation #1).
Scientist Notes
This resource has students calculate the number of carbon dioxide molecules in a 2-liter bottle. The calculations and conversions are well-presented and explained. As such, this resource is recommended for teaching.
  • Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)
    • ESS2: Earth's Systems
      • HS-ESS2-6 Develop a quantitative model to describe the cycling of carbon among the hydrosphere, atmosphere, geosphere, and biosphere.
    • ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
      • MS-ESS3-5 Ask questions to clarify evidence of the factors that have caused the rise in global temperatures over the past century.
    • PS1: Matter and its Interactions
      • HS-PS1-5 Apply scientific principles and evidence to provide an explanation about the effects of changing the temperature or concentration of the reacting particles on the rate at which a reaction occurs.
  • Common Core Math Standards (CCSS.MATH)
    • Algebra: Creating Equations (9-12)
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.HSA.CED.A.4 Rearrange formulas to highlight a quantity of interest, using the same reasoning as in solving equations. For example, rearrange Ohm's law V = IR to highlight resistance R.
    • Expressions & Equations (6-8)
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.6.EE.B.5 Understand solving an equation or inequality as a process of answering a question: which values from a specified set, if any, make the equation or inequality true? Use substitution to determine whether a given number in a specified set makes an equation or inequality true.
      • CCSS.MATH.CONTENT.7.EE.B.4 Use variables to represent quantities in a real-world or mathematical problem, and construct simple equations and inequalities to solve problems by reasoning about the quantities.
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