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Is taking an entire class on Mathematica worth it?

  1. Aug 24, 2015 #1
    How well do you need to know it if you're a grad student? Isn't it nothing more than an "calculator" in that you don't "make" anything, just use it to solve integrals and such? Edify me.
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  3. Aug 24, 2015 #2


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    You can do some seriously cool stuff with Mathematica - there's some cool examples here: http://demonstrations.wolfram.com/ I use it on a daily basis, sometimes to "make things", sometimes just to scratch out ideas.

    However, I'd say that taking a full class in Mathematica is slightly less useful than a full class in python or fortran or C/C++. Whether or not you find taking courses in programming languages useful or not is a matter of personal taste, but I think it's easy enough to pick up.
  4. Aug 24, 2015 #3
    Mathematica is so much more than just a calculator. In some research projects, we have exclusively used Mathematica to make simulations and graphs. We have used it to make demonstrations for gen-ed courses. And we haven't even touched 1% of what it can do. If you can sacrifice a bit of computational power (as in, I'd still use Fortran for something that has to run for days and days), use Mathematica over anything else.

    That being said, the Wolfram documentation is super helpful. As long as you head into Mathematica knowing what you want to accomplish, it will help you get there. I wouldn't take a class on it.
  5. Aug 24, 2015 #4


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    That's a good point. The documentation for Mathematica is fantastic.

    I think one reason to take a course in mathematica, is just knowing what you can do with it - there's a lot of scope! But there are other ways to figure out that scope.
  6. Aug 24, 2015 #5


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    Matlab is probably more useful than Mathematica from a physics standpoint- it's also used a lot more in industry. So if I had the option of doing a Mathematica course or a Matlab course, I'd choose Matlab.

    Not sure you have that option.
  7. Aug 25, 2015 #6
    As much as I love Mathematica, I would also agree with this. Matlab is faster at matrix manipulation (hence Matlab) and easier to debug, and he is correct that it is used more often. My humble opinion is that if you're doing any kind of visualization or string manipulation, use Mathematica. Otherwise, Matlab!
  8. Aug 25, 2015 #7
    Mathematica's numerical algorithms are much faster today and on a par with Matlab's. I teach a class in Numerical Methods using Matlab to engineering students and many of these same students are in my physics classes where I use Mathematica. The students are constantly begging to use Mathematica for Numerical Methods. Unfortunately the engineering departments all want Matlab so they are stuck with it.

    A lovely comparison of Mathematica and Matlab is It's Always the Right Time for Mathematica
    It compares the code for creating an analog clock and how simple this is with Mathematica and clunky with Matlab.
  9. Aug 25, 2015 #8
    I would instead find projects and a good book to read about Mathematica. My Calculus teacher gave us Mathematica problems for extra credit. It is really neat. Although spending 3 months sounds extreme. If you are not good with computers or no programming experience, then it would not hurt to have guided assistance.
  10. Aug 25, 2015 #9
    Really? Interesting, didn't know that.
  11. Aug 25, 2015 #10


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    Depends on what you are using it for. Matlab tends to be better for numerics, Mathematica for more symbolic work. Mathematica is used quite often by pen and paper theorists when they want to do some computational things. For example I and many other people have used it for plotting dispersion relation for an analytical model on a slab of finite width. A good example in plotting the KM model or FKM for 2D and 3D TIs. If you do it for a slab of finite width you will actually see the edge states.
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