CATEGORY: Physics
February 17, 2014–

The start of the XXII Olympic Winter Games means one thing for me: at least six hours a day of watching people ski down treacherous slopes, do crazy 720-degree spins with their snowboards, and perform triple toe loop jumps. Whether or not you’re spending every waking moment watching athletically superior individuals accomplish seemingly impossible feats, you can take this opportunity to explore some of Wolfram|Alpha’s math and physics calculators. Now Wolfram|Alpha can add a fun science and math spin to the Olympics. More »

November 25, 2013–

The holiday season is upon us again, and that means one thing: more turkey, please. Last year we introduced a tool for calculating how long you should cook a turkey. This year we’ve expanded our selection of useful tools to help you plan your turkey-related needs for the holidays. More »

September 19, 2013–

Recently the author of xkcd, Randall Munroe, was asked the question of how long it would be necessary for someone to fall in order to jump out of an airplane, fill a large balloon with helium while falling, and land safely. Randall unfortunately ran into some difficulties with completing his calculation, including getting his IP address banned by Wolfram|Alpha. (No worries: we received his request and have already fixed that.) More »

August 30, 2013–

Though summer’s winding down in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s not too late to take a trip out to your local amusement park. We’ve added a bunch of new amusement park data to Wolfram|Alpha, so whether you’re plotting your vacation or just hoping to learn some cool facts about your favorite rides, we’re sure to have a query that’ll give you a thrill. More »

August 22, 2013–

(This is the third post in a three-part series about electrostatic and magnetostatic problems involving sharp edges.)

In the first blog post of this series, we looked at magnetic field configurations of piecewise straight wires. In the second post, we discussed charged cubes and orbits of test particles in their electric field. Today we will look at magnetic systems, concretely, mainly at a rectangular bar magnet with uniform magnetization. More »

March 20, 2013–

Many of us are familiar with motion in a straight line: you speed up and move faster, you travel forward and end up someplace new. But there is another type of motion: angular motion, or the motion in a circular path. These are the kinematics of a merry-go-round, a spinning top, or the orbit and rotation of the Earth. More »

March 6, 2013–

Throughout the history of physics, scientists have postulated laws and theories about the nature of the world around them. Some were proven false, while others have grown to be the basis of entire fields of study. One such field is classical mechanics, which describes the area of physics most familiar to us, that of the motion of macroscopic objects, from baseballs to planets and traveling along hills to falling from space. As one of the oldest subjects in science, the work here serves as a basis for less familiar areas such as relativity and quantum mechanics. More »

January 31, 2013–

Tools are a natural extension of our mastery of physics. By putting our knowledge to use, we are able to manipulate the world around us on a much larger scale. Tools and machines have allowed us to build great monuments, to settle otherwise inhospitable locations, and to launch ourselves into space. More »

October 2, 2012–

Last weekend, Looper came out in theaters, bringing time travel back to the big screen. But there are lot of questions that can be asked about the science of the world it portrays. We will visit some minor spoilers along the way, so you may want to wait to read this post until you see the movie. In addition to time travel, Looper depicts widespread solar power and almost ubiquitous telekinesis. What can Wolfram|Alpha tell us about this and other aspects of the film? More »

September 27, 2012–

In my last blog post, we looked at various examples of electrostatic potentials and magnetostatic fields. We ended with a rectangular current loop. Electrostatic and magnetostatic potentials for squares, cubes, and cuboids typically contain only elementary functions, but the expressions themselves are often quite large compared with simple systems with radial symmetry. In the following, we will discuss some 3D charge configurations that have sharp edges. More »

August 13, 2012–

Like many people, I went to see Total Recall recently. Much of the story for this science fiction thriller (based loosely on a short story by Philip K. Dick) concerns “The Fall.” As explained in the introduction for the movie, “The Fall” is a tunnel bored through the center of the Earth that connects the fictional United Federation of Britain and The Colony, which is located in present day Australia. More »

July 20, 2012–

(This is the first post in a three-part series about electrostatic and magnetostatic problems involving sharp edges.)

Mathematica can do a lot of different computations. Easy and complicated ones, numeric and symbolic ones, applied and theoretical ones, small and large ones. All by carrying out a Mathematica program.

Wolfram|Alpha too carries out a lot of computations (actually, tens of millions every day), all specified through free-form inputs, not Mathematica programs. More »

December 19, 2011–

We are pleased to add our latest work in the domain of radiation shielding to our ever-widening repertoire of highly technical and challenging areas. Although this was one of the earliest features added to Wolfram|Alpha, we have now significantly expanded the functionality of the area that permits users to ask about the shielding efficacy of numerous materials against multiple radiation sources. Most importantly, we have now included the computations for shielding against that most dreaded radiation—the gamma ray. We think these new features will be extremely useful in helping people to better understand the common shielding gadgets they might see every day (such as at the dentist’s office or when getting an X-ray).

June 17, 2011–

Our ever-growing family of Wolfram|Alpha-powered iOS apps is gaining two new additions today, including the first in our new Professional Assistant series, as well as another entry in our Wolfram Course Assistant Apps. Launching today for iPod touch, iPad, and iPhone are the Physics I Course Assistant and the Network Admin Professional Assistant App. We designed our Professional Assistant Apps with working professionals in mind. They include content specific to each profession and reference information a professional may look up over the course of a normal day.

The Network Admin Professional Assistant is a useful addition to a network admin’s IT toolbox, whether at home or on the job.

March 3, 2011–

Students of the history of science will recall learning that Galileo observed and described the periodic motion of a simple pendulum around 1602. Until being supplanted by other technologies around the first third of the 20th century, this property of pendula has been indispensible in the creation of accurate timekeeping devices.

An idealized pendulum consisting of a weight (often called a “bob”) on the end of a massless cord and suspended from a frictionless pivot is called a simple pendulum or, more explicitly, a simple gravity pendulum. Wolfram|Alpha has known about simple pendula for some time, as you can verify by entering “pendulum”. In fact, doing so brings up not one but two pendulum results:

May 4, 2010–

As we all know by now, Wolfram|Alpha is a computational knowledge engine. That means not only should it be able to do computations on a wide variety of topics, but also that it needs detailed knowledge of the names and salient properties of a wide variety of entities that are commonly encountered in human inquiry and discourse.

This is obvious in the case of classes of objects that fit neatly into curated data collections, such as mathematical surfaces (e.g., Möbius strip), countries of the world (e.g., New Zealand), chemicals (e.g., caffeine), and so forth.

What is perhaps slightly less obvious is just how much knowledge needs to be encoded to have a reasonable “understanding” of almost any named result in math and the sciences. For example, most people (including non-mathematicians) have heard of Fermat’s last theorem and therefore would rightly expect Wolfram|Alpha to be able to say something sensible about it.  And as one of my other hats involves writing the online encyclopedia of math known as MathWorld, which is hosted and sponsored by Wolfram Research, putting this information into Wolfram|Alpha naturally fell to me. So, for the past several months, I have been attempting to gradually build up Wolfram|Alpha’s knowledge base on named results in math and physics.

The screenshot below shows what Wolfram|Alpha now returns for Fermat’s last theorem:

As you can see, Wolfram|Alpha begins by giving you the standard name for the result in question, followed by a clearly worded (or at least as clearly worded as could be managed in the marginal space available ;) ) plain English statement of the result. Next, at least in cases where it is possible to do so, a mathematically precise “formal statement” of the result is given. This is followed by any common alternate names the result might have, a listing of historical information, and finally an enumeration of prizes associated with it (where relevant). More »

January 8, 2010–

During the holidays we posted “New Features in Wolfram|Alpha: Year-End Update” highlighting some of the most notable datasets and enhancements added to Wolfram|Alpha since its launch this past May. We are thrilled by the questions and feedback many of you posted in the comments section. Your feedback is incredibly valuable to the development of Wolfram|Alpha. Many of the additions presented in the post were the result of previous suggestions from Wolfram|Alpha users.

We hope to continue this dialogue as we update Wolfram|Alpha’s ever-growing knowledge base in 2010. You wrote 170-plus comments to the “Year-End Update” post, and we’ve sent questions from those comments to Wolfram|Alpha’s developers and domain experts for answers. We’ll be reporting their responses in a series of blog posts.

Zach
Q: Wonderful to hear about, yet my regular challenge raises its head again. I type in “plasma physics” and get a definition—but nothing more. I type in “plasma temperatures”, “gas plasma”, “ionized gas” and get nothing. I applaud the notion of making sure Wolfram|Alpha has information relevant to the public interest (ecology, environment, employment, salaries, cost of living, and all that), but you’re missing an entire branch of physics and an entire state of matter. I’d love to compute, for example, the temperature of a certain firework as it explodes, and then relate that to whether the chemicals within have been heated to plasma or are simply burning brightly, and which additives burn the longest (and thus have more chance of landing on the audience while still hot). Pure exploration of data based on something cool and pretty.

On the other hand, the more you add, the more holes you’ll find as people search and then become frustrated when specific things they want aren’t available. Please keep tracking your “cannot find” results!

A: Although we haven’t yet covered every possible domain of knowledge, that’s certainly our goal—and feedback like yours is definitely considered and added to our “to-do” list. Each time a query produces one of those “Wolfram|Alpha isn’t sure how to compute an answer from your input” messages, it shows up in our logs. Sometimes we have the data, but need to tweak Wolfram|Alpha’s linguistic code so it recognizes more types of questions. If we don’t have the data, someone looks closely at your question and at sources that might be able to answer such questions, and more often than not those sources are incorporated into our planning. Many of the features mentioned in our year-end review were direct responses to user requests, and many more are in the works.

Jim Clough
Q: I have just downloaded W/A for iPhone, but haven’t had much chance to try it yet. Two questions:

1. My first query to W/A, about Olympic marathon winners, failed “Could not connect to a W/A server” or something like that. I thought the point of the downloaded version was to free you from wi fi restrictions.
2. Given the ever changing nature of knowledge and your impressive programme of developments, can iPhone customers expect updates in the future?

A: As we’ve noted before, the iPhone and iPod touch are terrific platforms, but they simply aren’t powerful enough to solve many queries in a reasonable amount of time, if at all; the Wolfram|Alpha App for the iPhone does require an internet connection. Users of the app will therefore benefit from all the same data and algorithm updates that are added weekly to the main Wolfram|Alpha website, as well as ongoing bug fixes and enhancements to the app itself. More »

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November 24, 2009–

Ah, fall! The signs of the season are all around us: the sounds of leaves rustling along the sidewalks, the smell of piping hot apple cider, and the sight of 12-pound pumpkins being hurled through the air at speeds upwards of 350mph. Yes—pumpkins!

Recently, we had an opportunity to participate in one pumpkin pastime that’s right up Wolfram|Alpha‘s alley. We’re not talking about pies here, we’re talking about the Champaign Urbana Schools Foundation’s CUPunkin’Chuckin’ Challenge! Punkin’Chuckin’ is the art of hurling pumpkins (or multiple pumpkins) great distances with smartly engineered, often homemade, devices such as trebuchets and catapults. In a typical Punkin’Chuckin’ competition, the goal is simple—to go the distance, or in this case, to hit a city bus.

This is one competition you have to see to believe.

Yes, we know what you’re thinking. We want to build our own, too!
More »