Minecraft welcomes millions of young players every day and is home to all kinds of nerdery. Now, a team of chemists hope to bring the two together by helping children take their first blocky steps into the world of biochemistry inside the virtual building environment.
Researchers from the University of Hull in the UK have released a free download for the PC version of Minecraft, called MolCraft, which uses the game's building blocks to render a series of molecular wonders. There is, you'll be pleased to hear, also also a series of puzzles and quizzes to sift through, too. Writing about the educational software on The Conversation, the team behind it explains:
[J]ust like man-made machines, proteins have to be precisely built if they are to do their jobs. A small part out of place, whether a nut in a car left loose by an errant mechanic, or an atom in a protein mutated by UV light, can cause the whole mechanism to fail. Sometimes this will have disastrous consequences: a failed brake in your vehicle, or cancerous cells in your body.
In MolCraft, anyone can explore the building blocks of these incredible natural nano-machines. You can discover how just 20 chemical building blocks can result in the astonishing diversity of structures and functions that are required to hold living things together... [It's] a world where the majestic helices of myoglobin rise above you. Where you can explore this massive molecule and its iron centre that carries oxygen around your muscles. Or, if you prefer you can fly down a pore through which water molecules normally flow across cell membranes.
The team hopes it will be used in schools, but you can download MolCraft to use at home here.