Wolfram Alpha as Your Secret Weapon

wolfram alpha logoAlthough Wolfram Alpha appears to be a tool used exclusively by the STEM community, it might become your secret weapon in finding real answers to questions you or your students might have.  Wolfram Alpha is not a search engine per se, but a “knowledge and computation” engine. Its user interface is deceptively simple– looking like any other search engine, but it is much more.

Wolfram Alpha can be found at the following website:

http://wolframalpha.com

The important point is that this engine gives answers, not just links.  It doesn’t matter what discipline you teach or study there is something here for you.  The tool is NOT narrowly focused at all but spans many computationally and non-computationally focused disciplines, such as Math,  Chemistry, Arts and Media, Words and Linguistics, History, and Political Geography.

Interested in healthcare?  You can easily compare “healthcare expenditures in US vs Sweden.”
Comparison of Healthcare Expenditures of US vs Sweden

Demographic Queries

Wolfram Alpha excels in answering demographic questions finding its data from the United Nations and the US Census Bureau.  For example, I can query “how many female senior citizens are in Forsyth county?”

demographics chart
Demographic study of age/sex in Forsyth Co., NC, US.

Words and Linguistics, Media and Art

There are other rich categories to explore such as “Words and Linguistics” and “Media and Art”– Wolfram Alpha will assist you finding answers there as well.

Fine Art

Wolfram Alpha can produce a comparative art summarization.  For example, one could compare three works– “Warhol’s Marilyn Monroe, Campbell Soup Cans, and Eight Elvises.”

A comparative study of three works by Andy Warhol

Math Computation

The real strength of Wolfram Alpha is in Math Computation.  If your college or high school math classes are a distant memory, Wolfram Alpha can help you solve specific problems involving basic math, algebra, calculus, and differential equations.  You can ask a specific question like “solve x2 + 2x + 4 =0” or “integrate the cosine of x squared” and you will get answers like the indefinite and definite integral forms, graphs,  a series expansion, and more.  If you’re willing to subscribe, you can get a step-by-step solution to such equations!

Comparative statistics

We can pose comparison questions like showing  “greenhouse gas emissions US vs Germany” and get very rich answers with citations to the source of the data.

As you can see, Wolfram Alpha is very different from Google or Bing– providing answers and very interesting tools for analysis and data visualization.  It is worthwhile spending some time with Wolfram Alpha to learn what it can do for your scholarship and general interests!

Author byline — Jeffrey Muday is an ITG Analyst for the Biology and Chemistry departments.  His interests include high performance computation, web applications, and STEM related instruction.

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