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Calculators Recommendations for physics calculator?

  1. Apr 26, 2010 #1
    My old trusty scientific calculator only has one line display and most of my calculations seem to really a need an extra line or two. And I use the "constants" feature a lot. Anyone recommend a solid physics calculator with a robust display and "constants" (c, h-bar,Bohr radius, epsilon0, alpha, etc) feature? Also, one thing I'm having trouble with in my current calculator is that if the number is extremely small, like 10^-30 it will just call it zero, rather than 1 x 10-30, at least in some cases. Would be great to get a calculator/display that handled the extremely small and large. Any recommendations?
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  3. Apr 26, 2010 #2


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    The scientific calculators you can buy for $10 in the drug store are embarrassingly good these days.
    Personally I like HP I have had a simple HP scientific one for 20years (which of course they no longer make).

    There are a bunch of threads here discussing the graphing calculators from HP and Casio, (both around $70-150 in stores) - they are both fantastic and offer such similar features that people are prepared to argue for hours that theirs is best.

    I haven't used them but Sharp have made a comeback with a set of very cheap calculators with a 4line display that can show equations as they appear in the textbook.

    Of course it depends on what you want them for.
    If you are at school they may be ruleson what models you are allowed in exams.
    If you are working i tend to go for a fairly simpel one with a nice keyboard rather than lots of complexity. It's easier to use the PC in front of you for solving compelx integrals than the calcualtor - but it's nice to have a rugged relaible one that you now how to use when you are on-site.
  4. Apr 26, 2010 #3
    That's reassuring. My current one is a Sharp, and I was hoping to replace it with another multi-line display Sharp, but haven't seen any in the local stores. You seen them anywhere? Radio Shack maybe? I may take a Physics GRE or something someday, but at the moment I'm not a student.

    Really? Is there a program that most physicists or students use? I've been using a dry-erase greaseboard for almost all calculations, as it's one thing I can't seem to do on a keyboard at all :)
  5. Apr 26, 2010 #4


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    Mathematica, Matlab or just Python - depending on how much of a mathematician they are.

    Most of us buy fancy graphic calculators but lose the instruction manual before reading it and so end up using MS-Excel or a maths package to graph anything.
  6. Apr 26, 2010 #5
    I agree. Mathematica and Matlab are firmly establish industry standards. Maple is too. As an alternative, Maxima can be used. The main benefit of Maxima is that it is free and still quite good.

    I recently discovered the program for the iPoD Touch (and other such devices). It's called Spacetime. It only costs about $20 and is very impressive as a graphics/symbolic calculator. The main benefit over HP and TI graphics calculators is the color display and animated real time 4D plots (3D surfaces animated like a movie) with full realtime 3d viewpoint control. Wow, this is impressive, and better than I get using Matlab on a PC. I was an old-time HP fan, and still am, but I'm disappointed in the latest calculators. I have a HP49G, but don't have the patience to use it for symbolics, and can't stand the unreliable keys that are prone to generating entry errors. I ended up going back to my HP28S from over 20 years ago.

    The iPoD Touch is actually a great educational tool. I only discovered this recently and previously ignored this device as a fad. I now have all my textbooks, notebooks and reference books in PDF form and with me at all times. Many useful math and science programs are available for free or for $1. I also have physics video lectures (about 200 hours !). With all of this, as well has hundreds of songs, and the obligatory 79 episodes of original Star Trek loaded, I still have only used less than half of the 64 GB of memory. (by the way, I don't work for Apple. I'm just really impressed) I also loaded Kindle on the iPod and started getting free ebooks that are available. The other day I bought my first physics text book this way. I spent $40 for the eBook, rather than over $100 for a real book. This is cheaper, and now I always have this book, as well as the rest of my PDF library, in my pocket. The Apple iPad is another way to go, but I concluded it is harder to tote around, so I would be less likely to have it at all times. If you have good eyesight, the iPod is readable and much more portable.

    Both Spacetime and Maxima may be an issue for students because they may not be allowed when taking tests.
  7. Apr 27, 2010 #6
    Thanks. I took a quick look at Mathematica, Matlab and Maple last night. At first glance these seem to be very heavy applications with steep learning curves. I was just looking for something a step up from a web-based calculator that I could punch calculations and notation into, and that would save my work, so I wouldn't need to always use my greaseboard or pen and paper + calculator. But maybe these programs have an entry-level that would be good for that, I'll explore more.

    And thanks for the thoughts on the iPod touch, I hadn't thought of that, will be sure to take a look.
  8. May 9, 2010 #7
  9. May 12, 2010 #8


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    I have a TI-89 from my college days, and I also bought a Casio fx-115ES scientific calculator which is allowed to be used in the FE exam. I like both of them just fine.

    The TI-89 is an excellent calculator, mainly because it's pretty much fully programmable and can do anything you have the need to do (on a calculator at least). It also has a good display for equations and graphing. I have used it for everything from symbolic manipulation to linear algebra to control systems analysis. These days I use MathCAD more than the 89, but it's there when I need it. A really nice thing about the TI-89 is the wealth of free programs available for it; check out http://www.ticalc.org/pub/89/".

    The https://www.amazon.com/Casio-FX-115...?ie=UTF8&s=electronics&qid=1273697720&sr=8-1" is a very competent scientific calculator, with a "natural notation" multi-line display, scientific/physical constants, unit conversion, matrix and vector math, and algebraic equation solving. It's cheap, and works fine if you're just crunching numbers and converting units here and there.

    In the end, a tool such as a calculator is only as effective as the person using it... In other words, read the manual.
    Last edited by a moderator: May 4, 2017
  10. May 12, 2010 #9
    Thanks. Can either of these handle exponents greater than 99? Mine returns errors for any exponent of x^100 or greater. Also, if there's a number with a bunch of zeros and then a couple digits, like 1.20000000000000000000006543, it will just display 1.2. Can these larger display calculators handle the extra zeros?

    Thanks again. I'll also look at MathCAD.
  11. May 12, 2010 #10


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    The TI-89 can, The Casio can't.

    It depends on the context, but the TI-89 is a better bet. I'd like to mention that before you throw a caluclator our for not handling that, do you really need to do calculations with 30 significant digits??? I rarely do calculations with more than 6...

    MathCAD is a very nice piece of software, and I love it for doing engineering calculations (especially units-aware and symoblic).
  12. May 12, 2010 #11


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    It's hard for me to understand why this would be a requirement. I remember my Physics prof reporting to us that someone had estimated the total number of atomic particles in the universe - 1098, if memory serves.
  13. May 13, 2010 #12
    Thanks. I'll have a good look at both. I really like my Sharp, great wide buttons, a very handy feature for Constants, but yes, the significant-digits issue comes up rather often. Maybe I'm doing the calculations wrong, that's the most likely :)
  14. May 13, 2010 #13


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    Well then let me ask this- what calculations are you doing that require exponents greater than x^100 and greater than 30 ginificant digits?!! I seriously doubt either of those is truly necessary (but I've been wrong before), and they certainly aren't being used in conjunction...
  15. May 13, 2010 #14
    Ah, okay, well recently I think I had to calculate Planck's constant to the fourth power, for example, but not sure why, would have to look, probably me misunderstanding the math :)
  16. May 17, 2010 #15


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    Well I would highly recommend a TI-89 (or comparable HP programmable graphic calc). They'll do everything you need, and being able to write (and download) notes and programs for the calculator is invaluable. You should check the requirements of exams in your class though, because if programmable calcs arent allowed, the Casio fx-115ES is what I would recommend.

    On the TI-89, taking the fourth power of Plank's constant gives me the correct answer (1.92764*10^-133), the Casio gives 0. MathCAD also gives the correct result, but only after I format the result correctly.
    Last edited: May 17, 2010
  17. May 17, 2010 #16
  18. May 17, 2010 #17


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    Expensive though and the download software only supports Babbage's original difference engine - if you have science museum replica it won't work
  19. May 17, 2010 #18
    Thanks! I've heard great things about the TI-89. A class I'm going to take doesn't allow them, but I can still buy it, use it and borrow the allowed TI-83 from the math lab for tests, and hopefully the TI-83 is similar enough in basic functionality that I'll know how to use it during a test. And yes, you're right, the TI-89 can handle three-digit exponents, while the TI-84 and others cannot, which is a true bonus. And it seems to be pre-loaded with physical constants, which I use all the time.
  20. May 18, 2010 #19


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    hmmmm... the TI-83 and TI-39 aren't that similar. Specifically, having a TI-89 spoils you; I've had one for the past 5-ish years and the TI-83 now looks absolutely primitive by comparison (even though it's a powerful calculator in its own right). So I'd recommend sticking with a TI-83 until you take this class, then "graduate" to the TI-89.

    By the way, the TI-89 has the best handling of units of any calculator or computer program I've ever used. Well, except for one, there's this program called Qalculate that I'm very fond of that handles units very well, but it doesn't do much with symbolic manpulation.
  21. May 18, 2010 #20
    Thanks. You're making it very hard for me to want to get the TI-83 :) But yeah, TI-89s are forbidden from these courses. Btw, thanks for the tip on Qalculate, I'm looking at it now.
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