This Minecraft World Teaches Kids the Basics of Biochemistry

Enter the crazy block world where some architecture is actually made of protein blocks.

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Nov 1 2015, 3:50pm

Mark Lorch, project lead (left) and Joel Mills, Minecraft in education consultant (right) in lego-brick form. Image: MolCraft

In the world of MolCraft, all is not what it seems. Strange formations populate this Minecraft world: These are actually molecular structures that could allow kids to have fun with Minecraft and learn about biochem at the same time.

Mark Lorch and Joel Mills, researchers from the University of Hull, just released MolCraft (Molecules in Minecraft), a game supported by the Royal Society of Chemistry that aims to teach kids about biochemistry in Minecraft. (The University of Hull site has full instructions for accessing the server, which can be found at molcraft.nitrous.it.)

Lorch told me that the inspiration stemmed from the recent trend in the sciences to use Minecraft as a teaching aid.

"I got tinkering and started to think of ways of incorporating chemical structures into Minecraft," Lorch said. Lorch and Mills tasked a group of biochemistry students to take some molecular structures from a protein data bank and then import then into Minecraft and create a world that would be engaging for young players of the game.

"They generated this world that was populated with all these structures and then incorporated a scavenger hunt dotted around the world with treasure chests. If they read all the materials, clues, and books, it will help them find those treasure that are around there," said Lorch.

Their game, said Lorch, harks back to Minecraft's exploratory nature, and hopefully encourages people to have a bit more awareness of molecular structures and how they come together to form proteins.

Myoglobin (an iron- and oxygen-binding protein) is reimagined in Minecraft. Image: MolCraft

In the past, Lorch relied on PowerPoint presentations and used various molecular visualization software tools to build, rotate, and present molecular structures to kids. The problem with this software is that it's not really designed for schools or kids. Lorch and Mills found that as children already play Minecraft, it provided a perfect platform on which they could incorporate some educational facts.

"If I do my presentations via Minecraft, I immediately grab [kids'] attention," said Lorch. "They can plonk molecules into something they're already very familiar with."

Next up, the researchers want to allow schools at large in the UK to use their game in their lessons, and incorporate more complex levels.

"Imagine taking a block of wood in Minecraft and breaking it doesn into its chemical elements and reforming it into something new," said Lorch.