Almost everybody has heard of Google, and I suppose just as many regularly use it. But specialist users have their own search tools, crafted so that their expert and particular needs are catered for. Doctors, obviously, Lawyers, Accountants ... the list is endless. Well it is now anyway with the launch of a mathematical search engine called WolframAlpha.
It comes from a well known mathematically based company the Wolfram Research who launched the powerful mathematics processor Mathematica (Version 1) many years ago - it is now at Version 7. This is the workhorse of many institutions engaged in teaching, research and calculation. They have added their new search engine in a pre-launch version. Wolfram Research founder, Stephen Wolfram says
"In recent years I've been hard at work on an ambitious project - called Wolfram Alpha. Mathematica has been a great success in very broadly handling all kinds of formal technical systems and knowledge. But what about everything else? What about all other systematic knowledge? All the methods and models, and data, that exists?
Fifty years ago, when computers were young, people assumed that they'd quickly be able to handle all these kinds of things. And that one would be able to ask a computer any factual question, and have it compute the answer. But it didn't work out that way. Computers have been able to do many remarkable and unexpected things. But not that ... "
Well now they can. If you type
"International Space Station 7/11/09 at 7:45pm"
into the Wolfram Alpha search engine you get a wealth of fantastic detail - charts and data that, as they say on the tin, are 'ready to go'. But try it out for yourself by typing in any formula or data seeking question. You'll be amazed. Here's where you can try it out:
And then let your students let rip.