“Minecraft’ Modification Teaches About Materials Science – Fun and Challenging

The “Polycraft World” modification allows “Minecraft” players to create flamethrowers. But to do so, players learn about plastics processing in order to refine and fabricate the necessary components to build them.

The “Polycraft World” modification allows “Minecraft” players to create flamethrowers. But to do so, players learn about plastics processing in order to refine and fabricate the necessary components to build them.

The 3-D world of the popular “Minecraft” video game just became more entertaining, perilous and educational, thanks to a comprehensive code modification kit, “Polycraft World,” created by UT Dallas professors, students and alumni.

With “Polycraft World,” the millions of “Minecraft” players worldwide will now be able to incorporate the properties of many materials — chemical elements and compounds — into game action. For example, said Dr. Walter Voit, players could harvest natural rubber from trees, thwart enemies using flamethrowers and jetpacks, explore underwater biomes by scuba diving, or rapidly travel through virtual worlds on pogo sticks wearing custom-molded running shoes.

Voit, a faculty member in the Erik Jonsson School of Engineering and Computer Science, is co-creator of the modification, or mod as video gamers refer to the kit.

“The accessibility and popularity of ‘Minecraft’ makes it a great tool as an educational platform,” said Voit, an assistant professor of materials science and engineering, mechanical engineering and bioengineering. “Using our ‘Polycraft World’ mod, people of all ages will have an opportunity to navigate materials science, including metallurgy and polymer chemistry, in a fun, creative self-paced environment.”

“Minecraft” allows players to build their own worlds from scratch using 3-D cubes. The open-ended game allows the users to construct castles and tend to animals, or compete on large, online multiplayer servers where players can even destroy each other’s creations and fight battles.

“?‘Minecraft’ is pretty addictive,” said Voit, who researches polymers that can be responsive to different environments, and is a 2013 Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency young faculty awardee. Voit has been an avid “Minecraft” player since the alpha launch of the game and has introduced many others to it, including “Polycraft World” co-creators Dr. Ron Smaldone, an assistant professor of chemistry, and Dr. Christina Thompson, a lecturer in chemistry.

Millions agree with Voit’s assessment. An alpha version of “Minecraft” was released in 2009, and a full version in 2011. It quickly gained a following mostly through word-of-mouth, and now has more than 100 million registered users of the PC version, with billions of views of instructional videos on YouTube. In 2012, “Minecraft” was one of 20 video games featured in the “Art of Video Games” exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum. “Minecraft” now has its own annual convention, MineCon, Lego characters and a Hollywood film in the works.

Players can already mine materials such as redstone to craft diodes, switches and triggers to build circuitry in their virtual world. Voit, who graduated from UT Dallas with a bachelor’s degree in computer science and master’s degree in intelligent systems, used Java code for his mod to add sophisticated plastics and metals processing to extend “Minecraft” possibilities and help users learn about polymer chemistry.

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