The Minecraft Chemistry Challenge

Minecraft is an truly awesome game. Think of it as digital lego set in a infinitely explorable world. But its real draw is that is encourages creativity on so many level. Players can build what they like, but also the code is open source, allowing creative coders to fiddle with rules and resources in the game. The result is a multitude of modifications (or mods in Minecraft parlance).


There are mods for every taste, including those who favour a spot of virtual  chemistry, in the form of Minechem. It allows for some surprisingly sophisticated chemistry. With a range of devises and tools everything in the world can be broken down into elements, and then reacted together to yield an incredible array of compounds.

As fun as Minechem is, my favourite mod of the moment is Printcraft. This allows the player to output anything they have built to a file that can be read by a 3D printer. And given that I have just assembled one of these wonderful contraptions (or ‘plastic tat generators’ as my better half prefers to call it), combined with my son’s Minecraft addiction means that my house is now slowly being invaded by virtual buildings turned real.

So I think I need something more meaningful to do with it. And so over to you. Build me something! Build me something original that’s related to the chemical sciences, be it useful, interesting or just plain cool. And I’ll 3D print (and send the designer) the best ones.

So here are the rules:

1) Construct something related to the chemical sciences in Minecraft, using the official printcraft server (use Minecraft 1.7.8)

Alternatively you can download the sever and run it locally or use the one I’ve set up (connect to IP using Minecraft 1.6.4)

2) Upload the STL file ,that printcraft spits out, to Thingiverse and tag it with 3DMineChem.

3) Add a link to your Thingiverse file in the comments below.

Lets see what we can come up with shall we?

P.S My ulterior motive is that I’m trying to come up with an Minecraft/chemistry workshop for school children and I need some inspiration and some beta-testers of my server.

By September 26, 2014 2 comments chemical education, fun

A Year in the Life of a New Research Lab…in Less than One Minute

The Hanson Research Group’s first experiment—initiated my second day on the job—involved two strategically placed Brinno TLC200 time-lapse cameras programmed to take one photo per day. The video from our first camera that covered our less-trafficked support space was posted in March. Below is the video from our second camera, which was placed in the main lab and focused on one of our fume hoods.

By July 18, 2014 8 comments fun, general chemistry

The Rules

Here at chemistry-blog we feel the need for a sacred text setting out the etiquette to be followed by chemicals scientists everywhere.

Henceforth these shall be known as The Rules (an idea blatantly stolen for cyclists), and they shall set us apart from those that peddle particles or organisms.

The Rules have been distilled from precedents and consensus. However more may be required.

1) There is ONE periodic table. Do not tolerate poor imitations of Mendeleev’s genesis.

The ‘periodic’ tables of Muppets, Harry Potter, cocktails etc. are not periodic hence they are just tables.

2) DNA is a right handed helix. Should you see it depicted otherwise you must bring it to the attention of twitter immediately.

Amendment: Dear Reddit, yes I know Z-DNA is left handed and if the news outlet using the image has labelled it as such then you don’t have to inform twitter. Okay?

3) The rubber balloon was invented by Michael Faraday, it is therefore a perfectly acceptable piece of laboratory equipment. 

To avoid the embarrassment and bother of having to buy balloons form the party shop all chemistry departments/companies should stock them in their stores, where they shall be known as Faraday spheres.

4) Acceptable uses of liquid nitrogen include making ice cream.

5) Always wear your safety specs in the lab. Do not wear them (even on your head) in seminars, at lunch or wondering around campus.

An exception is made when you have a nice pair of wrap around specs and can’t find your cycling glasses, thus allowing you to adhere to cycling rule #39 whilst circumventing rule #36.

6) Do not use the phrase ‘chemical-free‘, ‘no chemicals‘ or similar, EVER!

Except of course when ridiculing those that do.

7) It never gets easier, yields just get better. 

8)  Chief Editors of Nature Chemistry are bestowed with the honour of being verbed.

9) Lab coats should be white.

Maybe you think that wondering into the lab looking like something from an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical makes you stand out from the crowd. It does, but not in a good way.

The only the exception is in undergraduate lab classes where it is acceptable for instructors and demonstrators to wear a splash of colour to distinguish them from the hoi polloi.

Amendment: Blue nomex coats are OK, but ONLY when you really need one.

10)  Zinc and cadmium are not transition metals. Keep up.

11) When taking part in a photo op do not don a lab coat and sit at the bench unless this is where you work.

If you have the title ‘Professor’ no-one believes that the lab is were you spend your day and frankly you look a bit awkward in your pristine coat, perched before a piece of equipment that you can’t remember how to use.

12) The journal PNAS is pronounced as you would expect. Stop trying to to pretend otherwise.

13) Sulfur is not spelt with ‘ph’ no matter which side of the Atlantic you are on.

14) Helium is for NMR instruments, stop putting it in Faraday spheres

15) Before you waste an afternoon in the library be sure to spend a month or two in the lab re-discovering something that’s already been published. 1

16) The structures in your graphical abstract are not to be arbitrarily coloured in, no matter how pretty it looks. 2

17) If you book the instrument USE the instrument.3

The booking calendar is not for letting everyone know when you think you might use the instrument unless something else comes up, like grabbing a coffee or writing an inane blog post.

18)  Clean out the god damn pump trap.4

It is not a place to conduct an unregulated experiment.

Contribute to The Rules through comments or twitter via the hashtag #ChemRules and together we’ll build our code of behaviour.

19) Always wash your hands BEFORE going to he bathroom.5

This also applies if you’ve been cooking with chile peppers.

20) Your lab coat is NOT a rain coat.

21) Increased blood ethanol (to a concentration of 5.4mM) should be the reward for popping into the lab on a weekend or evening at the behest of a colleague who lives a greater distance from the lab than you.

Substituting caffeine for ethanol is permissible.

22) British queuing rules apply to the use of ALL laboratory equipment. No exceptions!

Not even if your sample, degrades or decays quickly.

23) Columns and reactions have improved yields if serenaded.  7 

“You can’t always get what you want” works particularly well. Be sure to include details in your methods.


1 Courtesy of Cantrill (the noun not the verb). 

2 Good point, thanks Fluorogrol.

Well said Chad.

Thank you Alex.

5  A excellent rule suggested by a Rabbit on Redit.

 @canageek, very true.

Thank you Luke and Alex.

By May 18, 2014 11 comments fun, Uncategorized

The advance of the chemical-free sciences

Chemist have long complained about the use of the term ‘chemical-free’ in marketing, particularly when used to promote organic produce. To bolster our standing, and to sure up the chemical industry, we go one about everything containing chemicals and hence  how ‘chemical-free’ is a meaningless term.

The veracity of the anti-chemical-free movement is highlighted by continuing complaints to the advertising standard agency on the grounds that ‘chemical-free’ is a misleading term. None of these have not been upheld. Meanwhile campaigners have continued the fight by produced numerous posters detailing the chemical composition of natural products, apparently to highlight the absurdity of the term.

However, there is a growing group of dissenters on the other side of the fence. They believe it is perfectly possible to manufacture a ‘chemical-free’ product. Not only have they long been developing such materials, but they have been slowly drip feeding their findings into the scientific literature. The result is that  there is now a significant amount of material that can no longer be ignored by the mainstream. Almost 4,000 peer-review papers exist reporting the existence of chemical free products and these include publications from the American Chemical Society and the Royal Society of Chemistry.  Furthermore technical advances have lead to many patents describing chemical-free methods, thus demonstrating practical applications of the science and how it can be turned into workable technologies, all without the need of chemicals.

These findings must now surely lead the  Royal Society of Chemistry to deliberate on now it is going to distribute the  £1 million it offered  for a verifiable chemical free product. Used wisely the money could fund research into further chemical-free technologies.

Clearly the chemical-free sciences are growing, and there are claims that it may well be the scene of future groundbreaking technologies. Its bound to represent the next big idea or buzz word, to sit alongside nanotechnology, synthetic biology and homeopathy in newspaper columns and grant applications alike. So maybe the RSC should consider using its £1 million to fund a new Journal of Chemical-Free Chemistry, plus related conferences so that this up-and-coming field can blossom out in the open.


By April 1, 2014 11 comments fun, general chemistry, opinion