ARCHIVE: August 2009
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August 28, 2009– 5

The amount of activity that takes place here on planet Earth is at times unfathomable. But it’s the merest drop in the bucket in comparison to the boundless amounts of activity in our universe—Earth is merely one planet within the Milky Way Galaxy. Most deep-sky objects cannot be seen by the naked eye, but observers looking through a telescope are treated to views of colorful clusters of light and fuzzy clouds of gas in the sky. Here we’ll demonstrate ways Wolfram|Alpha can help you find deep-sky objects such as galaxies, nebulae, and star clusters—our universe has about 100 billion member galaxies, and with so many, it’s nice to have a place to start.

Querying “galaxies” in Wolfram|Alpha will produce a list of some of the brightest as seen from Earth. Let’s compare the properties of the galaxies NGC 7544 and the nearby M 83 (well, only 15.78 million light years away). Wolfram|Alpha provides information including their approximate distance from Earth, Hubble type, apparent magnitude, equatorial position, and position in the sky and visibility from your current location. Keep in mind that object distances may not be available for all objects; one of the great mysteries of astronomy is that distance is notoriously difficult to determine except in special cases. More »

August 26, 2009– 7

In an earlier post, we had some fun with Wolfram|Alpha’s popular collection of  name data and its ability to compare given names’ popularity and demonstrate historical naming trends. Wolfram|Alpha can also compute statistics for surnames, rank them in order of commonality, and provide the approximate number of people living in the United States with any last name.

The data Wolfram|Alpha uses to compute surname statistics is largely drawn from name results from the U.S. Census. The United States is sometimes referred to as a “melting pot” because of the number of people who move to it from all corners of the world, bringing and melding their native cultures. Because of this, surnames found in the U.S. have origins from all over the world.

In this example below, we compare a set of random surnames. Take a guess at the most common surname in the U.S. Yes, it’s Smith. According to Wolfram|Alpha there are approximately 2.376 million Smiths living in the U.S.—that’s almost the population of Nevada.

Wolfram|Alpha ranks the surnames Smith, Nguyen, Gonzales, Lee by

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August 24, 2009– 9

Time just named Wolfram|Alpha as one of the 50 best websites of 2009. We are delighted to receive this recognition in just our first 100 days. According to journalist Adam Fisher, “Clear out your bookmarks. You’re going to need the space for 50 offerings that are indispensable….”

Time’s view:

“Today’s search whiz kid is Stephen Wolfram, one of the biggest brains on the planet—and he’s got the new idea. Wolfram has developed a search engine that can actually understand your questions and try to figure out answers. It takes some doing to learn how to talk to Wolfram|Alpha, but it’s well worth it. If the sci-fi writers are right and the Internet does gain a consciousness of its own someday, we’ll all blame Wolfram.”The 50 Best Websites of 2009,”
Time Magazine

As Stephen Wolfram wrote last week, we’ve been very busy since Wolfram|Alpha’s public launch. We’re constantly working toward our ultimate goal of making all of the world’s knowledge computable, and while we’ve got quite a way to go, we already have many trillion pieces of information available—something of value for everyone.

Thank you for your continued support and feedback. We hope you enjoy Wolfram|Alpha.

August 20, 2009– 155

So what’s been happening with Wolfram|Alpha this summer? A lot!

At a first glance, the website looks pretty much as it did when it first launched—with the straightforward input field. But inside that simple exterior an incredible amount has happened. Our development organization has been buzzing with activity all summer. In fact, it’s clear from the metrics that the intensity is steadily rising, with things being added at an ever-increasing rate.

Wolfram|Alpha was always planned to be a very long-term project, and paced accordingly. We pushed very hard to get it launched before the summer so that we could spend the “quiet time” of our first summer steadily enhancing it, before more people start using it more intently in the fall.

Two really great things have happened as a result of actually getting Wolfram|Alpha launched. The first is that we’ve discovered that there’s a huge community of people out there who want to help the mission of Wolfram|Alpha. And we’re steadily ramping up our mechanisms for those people to contribute to the project. More »

August 19, 2009– 3

On Monday, we kicked off our series on using Wolfram|Alpha for chemistry in honor of the American Chemical Society’s Fall 2009 National Meeting & Exposition, taking place in Washington, DC, USA this week. In this post, we begin to break down chemistry topics by taking a look Wolfram|Alpha’s collection of chemical element data. If you are attending the meeting, stop by the Wolfram Research booth, #2101, for a personal introduction to Wolfram|Alpha and the technology behind it.

The periodic table and its elements can be viewed as the foundation for building your knowledge and understanding of chemistry. Wolfram|Alpha defines a chemical element as any of the more than 100 known substances that cannot be separated into simpler substances and that singly or in combination constitute all matter. Currently, there are 118 commonly recognized elements, 92 of which occur naturally, and the others synthetically. The periodic table is organized in 18 columns (called groups) and 7 rows (called periods). Elements are arranged in the table based on their atomic weight.

In Wolfram|Alpha you can retrieve data for a chemical element in a number of ways, such as by name, symbol, atomic number, or a specific class, such as radioactive elements. In this example we query “hydrogen” and quickly learn from the basic elemental properties pod that it has an atomic number of one, which places it in the first position on the periodic table. We also learn its symbol, atomic weight, thermodynamic properties, material properties, electromagnetic properties, reactivity, atomic properties, abundances, nuclear properties, and identifiers. Click the image to explore more properties of hydrogen.

Wolfram|Alpha's information on the chemical element carbon

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August 17, 2009– 12

This week the American Chemical Society (ACS) is holding its Fall 2009 National Meeting & Exposition in Washington, DC, USA. In honor of professional chemists, educators, and students, we’re celebrating chemistry this week. If you are attending the meeting and would like a personal introduction to Wolfram|Alpha or the technology behind it, drop by the Wolfram Research booth, #2101.

Wolfram|Alpha contains a wealth of chemistry data, and provides you rapid computations that ensure accuracy and save time. Wolfram|Alpha is also an incredible learning tool, especially for new chemistry students looking for ways to learn, understand, compare, and test their knowledge of chemistry basics. Many of the topic areas found on an introductory or advanced course syllabus can be explored in Wolfram|Alpha.

Need to compute how many moles are in 5 grams of iron? Query “how many moles are in 5 grams of iron?”, and Wolfram|Alpha quickly computes your input and returns a result, along with unit conversions.

Wolfram|Alpha computes how many moles are in 5 grams of iron

Need some quick facts about carbon? With a quick query, Wolfram|Alpha returns its periodic table location, thermodynamic and material properties, and much more.
Wolfram|Alpha retrieves quick facts on carbon

Here is an example of how you can save time by converting properties in Wolfram|Alpha:
Wolfram|Alpha converts 5 moles of water to molecules

With Wolfram|Alpha you can explore additional areas of basic chemistry such as computing a unit conversion, referencing chemical elements, ions, chemical compounds, thermodynamics, quantities of chemicals, and chemical solutions.

In Wednesday’s blog post we will break down chemistry topic areas and explore how Wolfram|Alpha can help you work through specific exercises, such as identifying and comparing classes of chemical elements, calculating thermodynamics, preparing solutions, converting units, and stoichiometry. Are you a professional who is using Wolfram|Alpha in your research today? Are you an instructor who has incorporated Wolfram|Alpha into your classroom, or a student who is using it to prepare for your chemistry courses? Share your experiences with other chemistry enthusiasts having this conversation on the Wolfram|Alpha Community site.

August 14, 2009– 7

Does this summer seem hotter than last year’s? Are you debating between a trip to Miami or Florence in the springtime? Or perhaps heading to Tokyo in November, and wondering how to pack? Wolfram|Alpha has a number of helpful tools to answer your weather questions, by retrieving current conditions, forecasts, and historical data from weather stations located all over the world.

For example, simply enter “weather” into the computation bar, and Wolfram|Alpha’s geoIP capabilities identify your approximate location and produce the latest records from your nearest weather station. The “Latest recorded weather” pod may feature information like the current temperature, relative humidity, wind speed, and conditions, such as clear, thunderstorms, or fog. Go ahead and click here to give it a try for your area.

weather_1

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August 13, 2009– 8

Whether you are an astronomy student or just interested in learning more about those points of light in our sky, Wolfram|Alpha contains star data that will help you get started and understand what you’re seeing up there. Wolfram|Alpha not only charts the stars from your location, but offers detailed information including their distance from Earth, color, size, and much more.

To figure out which stars are the most visible to you, simply enter “10 brightest stars“. The query’s results indicate that the brightest stars as seen from Earth are the Sun, Sirius, Canopus, Arcturus, Rigel Kentaurus A, Vega, Capella, Rigel, Procyon, and Betelgeuse. Pods show comparisons of the stars’ size, their equilateral locations, and their locations in the current sky (not necessarily the night sky—unless you specify a time/location, Wolfram|Alpha assumes the current time from your current location).

astronomy_3-1

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August 12, 2009– 0

Are you interested in learning more about Mathematica—the powerful technology engine that makes Wolfram|Alpha possible, from its advanced computational algorithms to web deployment? We are pleased to announce that the International Mathematica User Conference 2009 will be held October 22–24 in Champaign, Illinois, USA. This is a great opportunity for anyone interested in learning more about Mathematica to meet and hear from Mathematica users from around the globe and all walks of life.

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If you’d like to learn more about Mathematica and all it brings to Wolfram|Alpha, we’d love to see you at this year’s conference. Please visit the Wolfram Blog for more details.

August 7, 2009– 7

We have heard from many people who are interested in learning more about calculating their daily food intake in Wolfram|Alpha. If you have been following our posts on how to use Wolfram|Alpha to help achieve your nutritional and wellness goals, this will be easy as apple pie.

Our data curators have been busy working on over 7,000 food entities that are listed in the USDA National Nutrient Database for Standard Reference and other food databases. Currently, they’re adding additional brand-name and specialty food items. Once a food entity is placed into Wolfram|Alpha’s nutrition bank, rules and algorithms are applied to help categorize it by typical attributes (e.g. raw, boiled), units (e.g. cups, tablespoons), and unique serving forms (e.g. slices, pieces). As a result of these categorizations, when you enter a food item such as “strawberries” into the site’s computation bar, Wolfram|Alpha computes a breakdown of total calories, fat, cholesterol, sodium, carbohydrates, protein, and other particular nutrients based on standard serving sizes (units) and attributes.

Now let’s get started! For this example, a member of our team tracked her food intake yesterday to be computed for the world to see.

Breakfast: egg + bacon + strawberries

Lunch: turkey breast meat + 2 slices of whole-wheat bread + mustard + grapes

Snack: Snickers candy bar

Dinner: McDonald’s McChicken sandwich + McDonald’s French fries

As Wolfram|Alpha defaults to one unit serving, we only need to enter units if she consumed more than one serving.

“egg + bacon + strawberries + turkey breast meat + 2 slices whole-wheat bread + mustard + grapes + Snickers + McChicken + McDonald fries” More »

August 5, 2009– 1

A trip to the doctor’s office can sometimes leave patients with more questions than answers, specifically if their doctor has requested they undergo medical tests. Wolfram|Alpha is a helpful reference for understanding what the tests measure and how to interpret the results. Wolfram|Alpha allows you to query information on a specific medical test or a panel of tests, compare tests and results for patients with specific characteristics, compute your estimated risk for heart disease, and find the diagnosis corresponding to an ICD-9 code. Wolfram|Alpha can take into account specific patient characteristics like gender, age, smoker, non-smoker, pregnant, diabetic, obese, and underweight. Wolfram|Alpha can give you a snapshot of available data that might help you understand how your results compare to others’. (Wolfram|Alpha does not give any advice, medical or otherwise.)

First we will demonstrate how you can use Wolfram|Alpha to learn more about a specific type of test your doctor has ordered. By entering the name of the test into Wolfram|Alpha, such as “CBC”, we can learn what the test measures. In this case, the test measures the number of cells commonly found in a blood sample, such as red blood cells and platelets.

Referencing CBC test results data in Wolfram|Alpha

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August 3, 2009– 11

Wolfram|Alpha contains a wealth of astronomy data on many areas of our universe, such as objects within our solar system and in the deep sky, constellations, and computational astronomy, making it a handy resource for astronomers, students, and hobbyists. Some of the most intriguing space activity takes place right here at home, inside of our own solar system. Wolfram|Alpha makes computations and explores properties and locations for objects and events in our solar system, such as the sun, planets, planetary moons, minor planets, comets, eclipses, meteor showers, sunrise and sunset, and solstices and equinoxes. You can query any one of these objects or phenomena, and learn information such as their position in the sky relative to your location, size, or distance; their next occurrence; and much more.

Wolfram|Alpha automatically assumes your geographic location based on your IP address, which is handy when querying for the time and location of an upcoming sky event. For instance, a quick “lunar eclipse” query in Wolfram|Alpha tells us that, for our location in Champaign, Illinois, the next one will occur on August 5, 2009 at 7:38pm U.S. Central Daylight Time and will be penumbral, which means the moon will enter the Earth’s penumbra (the outer part of its shadow), resulting in an apparent darkening of the moon. A penumbral eclipse is often hard to see because the penumbra isn’t very dark.

Results for the next lunar eclipse in Champaign, Illinois More »