CATEGORY: Life Sciences
April 18, 2013– 14

I love dogs; they are the best. I find that they are suitable not only as companions, but as friends and confidants. That said, as much as I might anthropomorphize them, I do genuinely wish I could see the world in their eyes. Now, with Wolfram|Alpha, I can—and so can you. More »

November 2, 2012– 0

At 2am on Sunday, November 4, the United States (sans Arizona and Hawaii, which are special) will end daylight saving time. The result is that Americans will essentially “gain” an hour. I thought it would make for a fun blog post to tell you about what you could potentially do with your extra hour, in part because none of my real-life friends would listen to me. More »

March 21, 2012– 0

It’s spring and I am ready for it. In the last few years I have come to love gardening and the general outdoors more so than I ever have in the past. Something about spending time in the warm sunlight, getting your hands dirty, and being in touch with nature is relaxing. I’ve found myself paying more attention to many green things around my yard that I would have previously just dismissed as a “weed.” Now I find that many of these things are not only beneficial, but in some cases edible. We at Wolfram|Alpha recently decided that we needed to beef up our plant coverage to include more than just, primarily, taxonomic information. Wolfram|Alpha now makes use of data from the USDA that includes information, mainly qualitative, that gardeners and botanists might find more useful. More »

March 1, 2012– 7

(Update: You can now find this data in the Wolfram Cat Breeds Reference App for iOS.)

Famed amateur astronomer David H. Levy once stated, “Comets are like cats; they have tails, and they do precisely what they want.” I’m a cat person and this seems to fit. Comets have a somewhat unpredictable nature to them, making it nearly impossible to determine how they will perform from one apparition to the next. This seems like a fitting description of cats as well, based on personal experience with my three cats. After recently diving into data on dog breeds, the natural next step would be to explore cat breeds.

Cat fancy is a rather popular activity, perhaps only slightly less popular than dog competitions. As with dog breeds, there are a number of accepted breeds that take part in competitions. We have gathered data from Cat Fanciers’ Association (CFA) and The International Cat Association (TICA) along with other sources to provide coverage on a majority of cat breeds.

Savannah cat More »

February 24, 2011– 5

One often hears such phrases like “She’s as fast as a cheetah”, or “He is slow like a sloth”. And one often also stops to ponder, “Well, how fast IS a Cheetah?” or “How laboriously slow DOES a sloth actually move?”. Wolfram|Alpha now has a slew of interesting facts about the numerous species that co-inhabit planet Earth. We recently added an overall set of more than 400 new properties, which span the most interesting and intriguing features of different species within the animal and plant kingdoms.

For starters, we can compute how much faster a cheetah is than a three-toed sloth:

Cheetah running speed/three-toed sloth running speed

It’s a pretty remarkable fact that the cheetah could nap for almost 11 hours and still beat the sloth to the finish line in a 1-mile race. More »

February 9, 2011– 5

It’s a bit of an understatement to say that trees play vital roles in each of our lives. Trees absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and release oxygen back to it. Our houses are made primarily of wood. We line our properties with trees to give us shade and privacy and also to reduce the wind that reaches our homes. Even the syrup we put on our pancakes is made from tree sap. One important species of tree, the sugar maple (Acer saccharum), is prized for both its sap and wood production. Therefore, it is important to know the growth pattern of the tree. How tall is it when it is, say, 50 years old? Thanks to data given to us by the United States Forest Service, you can now ask Wolfram|Alpha that exact question.

Click the image for the full results

Click the image for the full results

More »

January 11, 2011– 2

Today we’re officially wrapping up Wolfram|Alpha’s Deck the Halls with Facts & Knowledge Holiday Gift-Away by re-opening the gallery and announcing the winners! In early December we launched the contest as a way to say thank you for making 2010 a great year for Wolfram|Alpha, and to give some fun Wolfram swag to members of our community.

To start, we gifted Wolfram|Alpha Spikey paper sculpture kits to the first 500 people to enter the contest by submitting their favorite Wolfram|Alpha fun facts. We enjoyed reading all of the clever fun facts contestants uncovered in Wolfram|Alpha. Nyth discovered that eating a serving of bacon a day for one year will result in the consumption of 2.5lbs of fat. Sri found that the average life expectancy of a tortoise is 137 years. You can dive into Wolfram|Alpha to discover a countless number of fun facts.

Contestants had the opportunity to enter photos of their Wolfram|Alpha Spikeys, along with their fun facts, in a vote-off for a chance to win prizes such as Mathematica Professional, an iPad, Wolfram mobile apps, and T-shirts. The votes have been tallied and the winners have been announced on the Holiday Gift-Away site. Congratulations to all of the winners.

Online voting contests have their share of challenges. During the vote-off we discovered a few vulnerabilities in the voting system. We put additional measures in place to help secure voting, and we promptly identified and removed votes that fell outside of the contest’s rules. Once voting closed, we conducted a second round of auditing. It was very important to us that we reviewed the data and confirmed the correct winners.

Thank you to everyone who submitted their favorite Wolfram|Alpha fun facts and Spikey photos and supported their favorite entries in the vote-off!

October 28, 2010– 10

We humans often notice the passage of time by observing our watches; the movement of the Sun, Moon, and stars across the sky; or by the records left by our ancestors in diaries or other historical records—but these are just fleeting moments in the eyes of geological time. We are used to thinking about recorded history. But recorded history is just a blink when compared to the length of time called pre-history. Recorded history only goes back a few thousand years. The Earth is far older.

It’s hard for humans to grasp just how long the Earth has been here. Using a variety of methods, geologists have been able to put together many pieces of a very complicated puzzle. After all, how do you assemble a puzzle when you’re not sure what the finished picture should look like? From studying processes that are happening today, such as geological composition, rates of deposition, weathering, climatology, biology, and Earth’s magnetic field, geologists can extend these processes back to ancient times and learn what the Earth was like billions of years ago. When combined with data points such as those found in the fossil record, these extrapolations can be constrained, and the picture starts to emerge from the puzzle. More »

August 5, 2010– 7

Here at Wolfram|Alpha we’re always asking questions and seeking answers in an effort to make all of the world’s knowledge computable and understandable by everyone (big or small).

We’ve put together a short list of common questions asked by preschool- and kindergarten-aged children that can be answered with Wolfram|Alpha. We hope these examples inspire your child to dream up more!

Is the Moon bigger than the Earth? Ask Wolfram|Alpha to compare “size of earth, size of moon”, and you’ll discover numerical and graphic size comparisons showing that the Earth is indeed larger than the Moon.

size of earth, size of moon

Chances are your little artists will discover the answer to this question on their own, but they can try asking Wolfram|Alpha what color they get when they “mix red and blue”?

Mixing the colors red and blue

Whether it’s because they’re excited about the party or just turning a year older, the birthday countdown is always on! Simply ask Wolfram|Alpha about the date of the child’s upcoming birthday, such as “October 8 2010”, to learn the number of days, weeks, or months until the big day.
More »

February 10, 2010– 2

[Editor's Note: This blog entry is a guest post from Laura Ketcham, a 7th grade technology instructor and coordinator at the Aventura City of Excellence School (ACES) in Aventura, Florida. If you are interested in sharing how you've incorporated Wolfram|Alpha into your everyday life inside or outside the classroom, please contact our blog team at press@wolframalpha.com.]

I read the buzz about Wolfram|Alpha in an article in PC World this past summer. It was billed as a “computational” search engine with the advantage that the results of the computed search appear on one results page, not just in a list of links you need to search through to find the information. I quickly realized that Wolfram|Alpha is an innovative tool that I could definitely incorporate in the classroom! I am a 7th grade technology instructor and coordinator at the Aventura City of Excellence School (ACES) in Aventura, Florida. My students often use the web to find information for a variety of classroom activities, as well as for research in other classes. The students follow a process in which they evaluate websites to determine whether they contain reliable information that can be included for assignments; it’s one of the major topics I cover in the year-long technology course. Wolfram|Alpha provided me with a “cool tool” to introduce to the students that they knew could be trusted as reliable source. They can use Wolfram|Alpha in a variety of ways to “calculate” factual information.

What I really found helpful about Wolfram|Alpha was the Examples page. This provided me with a springboard to computing data in Wolfram|Alpha and with a quick way to evaluate its usefulness as a tool in the classroom. This is definitely a great place for teachers, of any grade, to get started!

I introduced Wolfram|Alpha to my students during a six-week project where the students infused Web 2.0 technology to build a website about South Florida oceans and beaches. They used Wolfram|Alpha to learn about a variety of topics that they had to include in their sites. Several examples are the taxonomy of a variety of plants and animals that call South Florida beaches home and the GPS/satellite technology being used to track a loggerhead sea turtle that the class adopted. More »

November 23, 2009– 5

We’ve blogged quite a bit about Wolfram|Alpha’s nutritional data, and with Thanksgiving this week, U.S. users are probably already peppering us with queries like “turkey leg + mashed potatoes + gravy + cranberry sauce + stuffing + pumpkin pie.” But you probably didn’t know that you could go a little further up the food-supply chain now—all the way to the “turkey population of all countries,” if you’re so inclined—and see that Americans are clearly the biggest turkey-gobblers on the planet, with a livestock population of more than 270 million birds.

Our new data, which comes from the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO), covers worldwide populations of turkeys, chickens, sheep, pigs, and other livestock animals from 1961 to 2007… which lets you uncover some interesting trends. Ask Wolfram|Alpha about “chickens vs cows in the USA,” for example, and you’ll clearly see a dramatic half-century increase in chicken, while the cattle population has undergone a slight but steady decline. Or try comparing “chickens in US and China,” and you’ll see not only an even more dramatic growth in the Chinese chicken population, but also an equally dramatic drop in population between 1997 and 1998—when Chinese authorities ordered the slaughter of millions of chickens in response to the 1997 outbreak of avian flu in Hong Kong.

And for all the smart alecks out there: yes, Wolfram|Alpha knows exactly what you mean when you ask, “How many turkeys are in Turkey?” Happy holidays!