Talk to Wolfram|Alpha in TeX
In 1977, famed computer scientist Donald Knuth decided he didn’t like the typesetting of the second edition of The Art of Computer Programming. Rather than unhappily accept the results of photographic typesetting techniques, Knuth invented his own digital typesetting solution, TeX, which would eventually become the standard typesetting system for mathematical and academic content. Wikipedia displays math content using a variant of TeX, and research papers from a large range of fields are very commonly submitted in TeX format.
Our team recently added the ability to understand TeX notation and convert it to the Mathematica form used by the powerful Wolfram|Alpha engine. We’ve received many requests for this functionality from people who use Wolfram|Alpha for advanced math and physics. It’s often easy and natural to write mathematics using TeX, whereas it can otherwise be quite difficult to express clearly in plaintext notation.
The beauty of this new capability is that one can now see, compute, and understand typeset mathematics all through the union of TeX notation and Wolfram|Alpha computation. Complicated expressions are now easily represented using the elegance of TeX:
You can use it with full-fledged TeX notation, for example, to get a sense of Gauss’ famous formula for the sum of the first n integers:
Or just incorporate parts to help write characters that are not so easy to represent, and, for instance, check that the square root of two really is irrational:
While this new functionality is definitely not a reimplementation of TeX (e.g., programming constructs like “def” et al. aren’t supported), it should allow math-like things to work. And when in doubt, use braces.
If you find other interesting things to fix or add, please let us know in the comment box below, but we can’t promise that we’ll send you a reward check!
This post was written by Buddy Ritchie and Greg Thole.