What-If Hypothetical Implementations
in Minecraft (WHIMC)

WHIMC is a National Science Foundation-funded research project and interdisciplinary collaboration between several organizations dedicated to cutting-edge and impactful informal learning.

The goal of WHIMC is to develop computer simulations that engage, excite, and generate interest and engagement in STEM. WHIMC leverages Minecraft Java Edition as a learning environment for learners to interactively explore the scientific consequences of alternative versions of Earth via “what if?” questions, such as “What if the earth had no moon?” or “What if the earth were twice its current size?” as well as other emerging astronomy inquires, like “What would it take to terraform mars?” or “How do we mine asteroids?” Kids get to explore these as aspiring scientists and engineers on an interactive server that changes to match their interests. Check out our worlds! Or read more about the research.

What are you waiting for? Check out the worlds you can visit and sign up!


May 2021 – Our 2021 NSF STEM For All Video is now live – check it out, vote for us, and post your ideas/questions!

May 2021Dr. Sherry Yi, previously a graduate student on WHIMC, defended her dissertation in March and successfully deposited her dissertation with the University of Illinois. Dr. Yi made significant contributions to the project in her time at UIUC by elaborating on what interest triggering events look like in Minecraft, and what contextual aspects are most critical in promoting interest in STEM with video games. Dr. Yi’s research won first place at the Research Live! competition and she recently accepted a position as a Research Scientist at Osmo in the Bay area. We will miss Sherry greatly and wish her well in her new adventure!

April 2021 – The WHIMC Project was well-represented at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting this year. We presented two posters:

One poster, Threads of Interest: Case Studies of Interest Development in a Game-Based STEM Summer Camp (Link to poster: Threads of Interest),focused on how the WHIMC Minecraft environment can be a useful for building on pre-existing interests in science for young learners, and generate new interests in science for learners who may not currently see themselves as interested.

Our other poster, Conducting a Video-Game Based Camp Intervention During the COVID-19 Pandemic (Link to poster: Camp Intervention) offers best practices for conducting a hybrid camp using a digital game, such as identifying novice players early in the camp and providing needed scaffolding and training. Using the hybrid in-person/online model for the camp resulted in more instances of interest development than previous years in-person only.

March 2021 – Development is well underway for the latest version of the WHIMC server! We’ve been focusing a lot on user experience to make sure learners who aren’t part of a camp or class can get the most out of their explorations. At the same time our team has also emphasized curricular scaffolding to help learners to make scientific observations that will also result in stronger data collection.

PBS Nova Labs has recently announced their Exoplanet Lab which will send interested learners on over to explore simulations of the same kinds of worlds they’ve just learned to detect!

All the excitement around the Perseverance Rover landing inspired us to create a Minecraft simulation of Mars that’s as close to the real thing as we can get! Learn more about our modeling and development process in Rendering the Red Planet in Minecraft.

July 2020 – We returned for the third straight year to the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center (UNCC), but this time we did so virtually. Despite our team being remote, we had two exciting weeks exploring hypothetical versions of Earth and Exoplanets in Minecraft. We also recorded a record number of unique in-game observations by a single camper at 96 in one week. We will see if that number can be topped next year!

February 2020 – We presented our work and led a week-long professional development workshop series with Ateneo University in the Philippines.  Topics covered included the use of Minecraft for informal learning in STEM, introductory programming with ComputerCraft, computational thinking applications in curriculum design, and 3D printing. Over 150 people came to our opening talk, we guest starred on a podcast and worked with over 15 representatives from schools, the Department of Education, and one non-government organization. Read more about it here. Many thanks to Didith Rodrigo and her many collaborators!

Sep 2019 – New articles on our work from the University of Illinois News Bureau and Associated Press. Fox Champaign visited campus to interview us last week, so we’ll be posting a link to that video in coming weeks!

Aug 2019 – We are very excited to share the news that our follow-on proposal has been funded by the National Science Foundation! Our new grant will allow us to create new STEM interest-triggering resources, tools for exoplanet exploration and creation, new online learning activities (in collaboration with PBS NOVA), and corresponding planetarium shows (in Boulder, CO). See the NSF summary for more information.

July 2019 – We returned to the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center for another exciting two weeks of What-if and Exoplanet exploration in Minecraft!

Apr 2019 – We are running a camp at the Next Generation School. What an entrance!

Mar 2019 – Catch us in June at the Foundations of Digital Games conference discussing our findings from our work with the Urbana Neighborhood Connections Center and FabLab.

Feb 2019 – Check out Dr. Lane & Dr. Comins at AISL!

Jan 2019 – Look out for our talk at ISTE this June. Learn more about our project and ways to implement games like Minecraft into your own classroom.

June 2018 – It was great working with enthusiastic campers and staff at Urbana Neighborhood Neighborhood Center and FabLab. Now to dive into data…

May 2018 – Our 2018 NSF STEM for All Video Showcase entry received a faciltators’ Choice Award!