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E = mc2 Scavenger Hunt

Einstein's Big Idea homepage

Answer questions related to E = mc2 by collecting information from library resources.

Ages: 10-14
Time: 1 to 1-1/2 hours
Group Size: 10-20 kids
Materials (per pair): Nametags, copy of E = mc2 Scavenger Hunt activity sheet, pencils, prizes

Get Ready

  1. Advertise the scavenger hunt

    • Choose a date and time for the hunt.

    • Three weeks before, begin advertising via posters in the children's, young adult, and reference sections; notices on library bulletin boards, Web site, and in library newsletter; and through young adult groups (homework clubs or book clubs). Let kids know they can win prizes.

  2. Sign up participants

    • Post a sign-up sheet at the children's, young adult, and main desk. Participants should include their names, ages, email addresses, and phone numbers.

    • Have a waiting list in case you have cancellations.

    • Call all participants to confirm attendance the day before the hunt. Use the waiting list to fill any cancellations.

    • Recruit staff members to help run the event.

  3. Prepare the hunt

    • Survey the questions on the E = mc2 Scavenger Hunt activity sheet. Revise or replace any questions that can't be answered with your library's resources.

    • Photocopy the E = mc2 Scavenger Hunt activity sheet on colorful paper. Make extra copies.

    • Make and post clues for the final question. Collect four index cards and write one of the letter sets (at right) on each of the cards. Then post each card in a visible place near relevant resource sections (such as the reference section, card/computer catalog, biography section, science experiment section, and journals/periodicals section). Participants will copy the letter sets as they find them, then unscramble the letters to answer the final question.

    • Download video clip from NOVA program "Einstein's Big Idea" at:

    • Obtain prizes (see ideas at right).

  4. Do a test run

    • Check hunt resources and final question "clues" to make sure none have been moved or hidden behind other items.

    • Make sure any "off-limits" areas are clearly indicated.

    • Prepare the start area

    • Set up a sign-in table staffed by library personnel.

    • Supply blank nametags and markers for participants to make nametags.

    • Provide snacks and drinks if permitted.

Run the Event

  1. Welcome

    • Welcome and sign in participants. Direct them to the Start Area where they can make nametags and have snacks while waiting for others to arrive.

    • Do a short icebreaker activity to help people get to know each other. Use your favorite, or try one of these suggestions:

      • Each person in the circle says his or her name and favorite breakfast cereal.

      • Each person receives a slip of paper with half a famous scientist's name on it (e.g., Albert . . . Einstein, Marie . . . Curie, Galileo . . . Galilei, Isaac . . . Newton, Niels . . . Bohr, Antoine . . . Lavoisier, Enrico . . . Fermi), then has to find the other half. Each pair exchanges names and a little information about themselves.

    • Connect the hunt to E = mc2. Explain that 2005 marks the centennial of Einstein's famous equation E = mc2. Ask participants to share what they know about the equation. Offer some background and/or show a clip of the NOVA program "Einstein's Big Idea" to introduce the young Einstein and other scientists whose work laid the essential groundwork for the equation (available at

    • Form pairs for the hunt. Let participants form their own pairs or stay in the pairs created during the icebreaker activity.

  2. Explain the rules

    • Hunt Rules: The Hunt is made up of questions related to Einstein and E = mc2. To answer the questions, you need to find an appropriate library resource. One of the goals is to explore the library, so we've placed clues on four index cards near key resources for some of the questions. (This means you can't rely on the computer only to finish the Hunt!) When your sheet is complete, return to the Start Area to have it checked. Pairs with accurately completed sheets receive a prize! Remember, it's not about doing it the fastest, but about using the library to find all the information.

    • Emphasize any "ground rules" for working in the library, such as respect off-limits areas, keep noise to a minimum, and don't move any clues.

    • Set a time limit, such as 45 minutes, if necessary.

  3. Distribute materials

    • Give each pair a copy of the activity sheet and a pencil. To avoid a stampede, assign "start clues" by circling different numbers on each copy of the sheet, and instruct pairs to start their search on the circled item.

    • The hunt is on! Library personnel can circulate to assist or clarify as necessary.

  4. Wrap up

    • Check answers and share discoveries. Ask which clues they found most difficult. If there were any "stumpers," review them with the group. Invite participants to share something new or interesting they learned.

    • Find out what worked. Ask participants to fill out a brief evaluation (be sure to ask what they would suggest you do differently if repeating the event).

    • Hand out prizes. Offer the same prize for all participants, or have one prize for participating and another for completing the sheet, as appropriate for your group.

Back to top

Einstein's Big Idea
Library Resource Kit

Big Ideas
Science is a process of inquiry. The legacy of E = mc2 continues.

Final Question Clues


Prize Ideas

  • Einstein- or science-themed bookmark, pencil, or pocket notebook

  • Pass to a local science museum

  • Book from the resource lists

  • Einstein-themed dolls, mugs, t-shirts, and posters (available at science museum gift shops or such Web sites as and

  • Coupon for a video store, movie theater, or ice cream shop


  1. Swiftness or speed; celeritas; dictionary

  2. Answers will vary

  3. Answers will vary

  4. Stockholm; almanac, atlas, or encyclopedia

  5. Journals might include Science (weekly) and Nature (weekly); magazines might include Scientific American (monthly), Discover (monthly), and Popular Physics (monthly); periodicals area or in an online database

  6. Answers will vary

  7. Exit sign; locations will vary

Final Question: Paper clip

Emily Woof as Lise Meitner

Lise Meitner (Emily Woof) and her nephew, physicist Otto Robert Frisch, were the first to understand that uranium atoms could be split. They calculated how much energy would be released each time a uranium nucleus underwent fission—a dramatic example of E = mc2.

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NOVA Home Find out what's coming up on air Listing of previous NOVA Web sites NOVA's history Subscribe to the NOVA bulletin Lesson plans and more for teachers NOVA RSS feeds Tell us what you think Program transcripts Buy NOVA videos or DVDs Watch NOVA programs online Answers to frequently asked questions