For those who may have lived in an early era of the internet, you may remember powder games. It shares some DNA with the Game of Life (wiki) in that it simulates a miniature world with the low-fidelity of a pixelated display and a few hundred bits floating around.
The Powder Toy, though, is more physics than biology but it actually does contain Game of Life elements you can release. I myself am more interested in the radioactive elements of the Powder Toy, and what destruction can be created with it. Its free and can be downloaded here, and enjoyed by Windows users.
Once one gets over how mind-bogglingly wide the selection of 185 unique and weird materials are, you will either go down the rabbit-hole and build ridiculously intricate mechanisms, systems, and reactions, or just go down another rabbit-hole and enjoy the many creations that other people have uploaded.
All kinds of creations exists, working nuclear reactors being a very interesting one to examine (or…um…sabotage).
As a science teacher, the possibilities are very exciting. Particularly educational creations include:
- “STKM in orbit” (learn a bit about orbital mechanics)
- “Lithosphere World” (beautiful pixel art, and everything is in balance, great for teaching)
- “Star Size Comparison” (A nice animated guide)
- “Earth’s Magnetic Field” (very simple and clear)
- “PHOT Radar”
- “RADAR: We are under attack”
- “Hydroelectric Plant” (Nice for explaining how potential energy works)
Obviously, coded pixels do not represent the universe, and many of the creations absolutely are not scientifically accurate. This said, it can be used to illustrate many points, and the people who submitted their creations obviously are afraid of the downvotes, and have done a lot of research, with the good results floating to the top.
But at 39,000 pages of creations, with 20 items each, you need to be pretty specific with your search terms, and while sifting through, ask yourself if the model is good for teaching or not.
The Powder Toy really counts as a science toy, it’s is quite safe and educational, even if it doesn’t quite represent the universe as it really is – that’s what simulations are, right?
Paul Hoets is a freelance maker who lives in South Korea. If you liked this article and would like to contribute to his empire of dirt, silicon and tech. education, buy him a coffee!