With a success rate of less than 10%, the National Science Foundation’s Advancing Informal STEM Learning awards are highly competitive. That is why we are thrilled to announce NSF awarded $2.7 million in funding for three years to our WHIMC project—we are scaling it up to reach new audiences through the creation of planetarium shows at Fiske Planetarium, an interactive experience on the PBS NOVA Labs website, an always-on Minecraft server, and new summer camps and after-school programs.
I remember meeting University of Illinois Urbana Champaign Professor Chad Lane for the first time, a few years ago. We bonded over our common interest for informal science education, his academic career, and my vision for what science and technology centers could do to inspire future generations of STEAM-literate pioneers. Shortly after, I was lucky to meet University of Maine Professor Neil Comins, astrophysicist and prolific teller of astronomy stories through engaging textbooks and—my favorite—thorough “What if?” scenarios.
We thought we could develop computer simulations that engage, excite, and generate interest in science by leveraging Minecraft as a learning environment for young learners to interactively explore the scientific consequences of alternative versions of Earth—and exoplanets based on real data—via “what if?” questions, such as “What if the earth had no moon?” or “What if the earth were twice its current size?”
The team includes now also the fine folks at 01 in Miami, who I had the pleasure to meet during my tenure in the Magic city, and David Condon, the Editorial Director for NOVA Labs—as well as a number of talented undergraduate and graduate students.