ORONO, Maine — An astrophysicist from the University of Maine at Orono is collaborating with the University of Illinois on a $2.7 million STEM initiative.

In a release from the University of Maine, astrophysicist Neil F. Comins will use Minecraft, a video game, in the hopes it will motivate students' interest in science, technology, engineering and math.

Using Minecraft, the University says that children can ask space-related what if questions to explore how their worlds differ from Earth. 

The project is funded by the $2.7 million grant from the National Science Foundation.

The initiative will tap use content from two of Comins’ books, “What If the Moon Didn't Exist?” and “What If the Earth Had Two Moons?”, and other what if scenarios being developed at the University of Maine. 

In the books, Comins explores what Earth-like worlds would be like if they or their astronomical environments were different from conditions currently on Earth, such as the Earth forming without a moon.  

These scenarios will be programmed into Minecraft by graduate students at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.