Honors Summer Adventures: Texas, Minecraft, and Polymers (But Mostly Minecraft)

by Jake Sporrer

My goal with this post is to introduce everyone to the Minecraft project that I have been working on this summer. A team of about five to ten people including myself have been involved in the development of a mod for Minecraft called Polycraft World. Polycraft adds several features to the base Minecraft game. The goal of Minecraft is to survive zombies and hunger using the world around you. Once you manage to survive, the game is about making the coolest stuff you can, from castles to mine cart roller coasters and working calculators that use the element “Redstone”, a block that can essentially conduct electricity.

Sporrer 5

What we have done is add elements of chemistry, materials science, and general awesome to the game. With our mod, it is possible to use rubber to make pogo sticks, create flamethrowers to fight your friends, and distill oil to create Lego-like plastic bricks. The process is not a simple “place oil, get running shoes”. The player must use a series of processing tools: machining mill, chemical processor, injection molder, steam cracker, and distillation column. Using these tools, we have mimicked the real-life processes necessary to create polymers. This allows us to teach the public about science in a new and fun way.

 Sporrer 7The virtual lab that I’ve been working in. From left to right: Injection Molder, Machining Mill, Extruder, Distillation Columns, Merox Treatment Plant, and Chemical Processor.

In balancing the game, we have made it possible for casual players, even children, to use these processes to create awesome polymer items. A friend of mine (not a child) that was a first time player spent the first ten minutes of our server world breaking stuff that looked fun to break and then he thought, “There must be a more efficient way to destroy things. I’ll check the wiki.” He then proceeded to spend the next half hour building the flamethrower. Seeing as the flamethrower is one of the more powerful items in the game, we make the player use as many of the processes as possible. By the end of his quest for world destruction, he had learned how to make a bulletproof vest, how to acquire propane from oil derivatives, and how to use a tree tap and injection molder to create a regulator. He then proceeded to corner me into a room and torch me. That’s just good old fashioned fun.


Sporrer 1This tree shows the Polycraft path to reach propane for the flamethrower fuel source and propylene required to build the flamethrower. A similar distillation process is used in the real world. –courtesy of Dr. Ronald Smaldone

For those of you Minecraft pros, one of our developers has taken modding to the next level. She created a parkour map using the super bouncy polyisoprene (rubber) blocks and several mods that allow rapid construction of a custom world. Upon completion of 3 checkpoints in the map, the player is granted an overpowered weapon (mine was an enchanted diamond sword named “Sleep Cop”) and access to a bouncy battle arena called TBD (total bounce destruction). The successful players can then duel in a gigantic glass cage surrounded by lava while bouncing on polyisoprene blocks. Isn’t learning great?

Sporrer 8Total Bounce Destruction (sans opponent)

Sporrer 6Polyisoprene Obstacle Course (Don’t fall in the lava)

There are several plans for this game. The overarching goal is to engage the public in polymer chemistry and engineering. There are plans to use it to create a chemical engineering program at UT Dallas that uses Polycraft as a teaching tool. Very soon, one UTD professor will be using the mod to supplement a chemistry class and another will be using it as the basis for a thermodynamics class. If we can get UTD in strong support of the project, we would like to offer scholarships for K-12 students that do exceptional things in the game to attend UTD.

If this sounds interesting to you on any level, shoot me an email at jsporrer@iastate.edu. I can talk to you about the features of the game. If you would like to get in and play the game yourself, go to polycraftworld.com and check it out. The page has instructions on how to install the mod. I would love to give any interested person a tutorial on how to use the mod effectively, but if you would rather discover for yourself, go explore and create on your own. The game’s alpha launch is set to be Labor Day of this year.

In my previous blog post, I mentioned that I would be living and working in Dallas this summer. I’ve been here for just over 2 months now and have gotten to do some cool stuff. In the lab, I’ve been working on 3-D printing, artificial muscle development, and carbon fiber composites. It’s awesome. Ask me about it if you’re interested, I love talking about it. I only have one blog post though so I’m keeping it short.

Sporrer 4Test prints that I designed and printed. The car is PLA and the Batarang is ABS.

Sporrer 2Crashing out carbon fiber -reinforced PLA

Sporrer 3My crew. Look at that PPE. Such safety. From left to right: Young, Abraham, and Christy (Keith not pictured here)

As far as living in Texas goes, it’s been pretty neat. I go rock climbing three times a week, get tacos once a week, and play Minecraft on the weekends. I’ve been into central Dallas to see the art museum, science museum, and aquarium. The most Texan place I’ve been is a place called Del’s. It’s a burger joint that is the oldest restaurant in Richardson, the town UTD is in. There were Texas flags, guns, and western posters on the walls. The burgers were pretty fantastic as well. I’ll be heading back to the Great Corn Plains of Iowa in two weeks. This summer has flown by. I’ll see you all soon. Have a great rest of summer.


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